Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Sal Marcoccio — July 3, 2014 @ 1:23 pm
Foles’ performance in 2013 means he won’t last past Round 6 in your fantasy draft.
QB Nick Foles
(2013 QB Rank—#17, 22.5 FPts/G)
As a tall, slow and lumbering pocket passer, Nick Foles didn’t fit the part of a quarterback that would thrive in the Chip Kelly system, but after he took over for an injured Michael Vick, he certainly proved otherwise. It turned out that Kelly’s system didn’t necessarily need an athletic quarterback that could take off and gain yards with his legs, as was the case at Oregon, but could be mastered by a smart, accurate and tough quarterback as well. Surprisingly, Foles did do enough with his legs to end the season with 225 yards and three scores on the ground. More impressively, Foles put up 2,891 passing yards with 27 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Foles accomplished that in basically 12 games, as he threw a mere four passes while replacing Vick in Week 4. The second-year quarterback finished eighth in completion percentage (64.0), first in yards per attempt (9.12), and first in quarterback rating (119.2). Foles’ miraculous season ended with him winning the Pro Bowl MVP, and left fantasy owners salivating over what he may do with a full offseason of preparation as a starter and with 16 starts potentially awaiting him in 2014. On a points per game basis, Foles was the sixth-best quarterback in fantasy football last season and it’s easy to argue that he has room for improvement. Although he loses his offense’s top receiving weapon from last season in Desean Jackson, he gains veteran Jeremy Maclin – who returns from an offseason ACL tear – in addition to rookie Jordan Matthews and former Saints running back Darren Sproles. Foles could potentially end up being overdrafted in upcoming drafts, but it’s hard not to like his chances of finishing as a top-five fantasy quarterback.
RB LeSean McCoy
(2013 RB Rank— #2, 17.5 FPts/G)
LeSean McCoy thrived in the Chip Kelly offense, rushing for 1,607 yards and nine touchdowns while adding 52 receptions for 540 yards and another two scores through the air. The Eagles finished 13th in plays from scrimmage with their fast-paced offense and will look to speed things up again in 2014. McCoy was a major part of that offense with 314 carries and 52 receptions. There has been some talk of lessening McCoy’s load a bit this season, but it’s hard to see a major dip especially if the team does manage to run more plays this season than it did last season. McCoy is one of the more exciting players in the league with the ball in his hands and his ability to stop and change directions with unbelievable cuts and jukes is reminiscent of the great Barry Sanders. McCoy’s production initially declined when the team made the switch at quarterback from Michael Vick to Nick Foles, but it quickly rounded back into form after a few weeks. McCoy will turn 26 this month, so he’s really just entering the peak of his prime years. McCoy is a player to seriously consider as early as the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts this season.
RB Chris Polk
(2013 RB Rank—#75, 5.7 FPts/G)
Chris Polk started the season ranked third on the running back depth chart, but passed Bryce Brown while averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per carry in his limited action. Polk is one of the most valuable handcuffs in fantasy football since he has the talent to thrive and will see plenty of carries in an offense that finished fourth in rushing attempts in 2013. Polk’s shoulder issues, which caused him to go undrafted out of Washington, should be resolved after a surgery in the offseason. The team seems confident enough in his health that they shipped off Brown in a draft day trade. At 5’11” and 222 pounds, Polk is a power back that rarely fumbles and can grind out yards inside. It would likely require a LeSean McCoy injury for Polk to have any value – outside of handcuff value – in all but the deepest of leagues. If the McCoy owner leaves him on the waiver wire, though, Polk could be a difference maker in fantasy leagues should an opportunity arise.
RB Darren Sproles
(2013 RB Rank—#35, 7.1 FPts/G)
When Darren Sproles was released by the New Orleans Saints in a cost-cutting move, it was hard to imagine that he could possibly maintain his value at age 31 in any other setting. Luckily for him and his owners, he probably landed in the second-best location for his fantasy value. In standard leagues, Sproles is probably not worth the price that his name recognition will cost you, but in PPR leagues, he should have another productive season as the Eagles look to him to help fill the void left when Desean Jackson was released. Sproles may not see the 70+ receptions that were commonplace during his three years with New Orleans, but 60 receptions is likely a solid baseline to use when projecting his 2014 season. While LeSean McCoy is healthy, Sproles will likely be used in the backup running back role, seeing a handful of carries per game. If McCoy was to go down, though, it’s unlikely Sproles’ role would increase. He’d likely still be a change of pace back to Chris Polk.
WR Jeremy Maclin
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL in late July last offseason, forcing him to miss the entire 2013 season. He signed a one-year deal in February to stay with Philadelphia where he can likely build up his market value in the Eagles’ high-flying offense. He has reportedly looked fantastic in OTAs and is expected to be 100 percent for training camp. Maclin has averaged 860 yards over the course of the four NFL seasons, but he has never surpassed 1,000 yards in a season. There’s a very good chance that will change this season, as Maclin is likely to be the main beneficiary of Desean Jackson’s departure. He should lead the team in targets. Maclin isn’t the prototypical WR1 type at only 6’0”, 198 lbs., but he has enough speed and direction to find open spaces and make things happen after the catch in the complex Chip Kelly passing attack. Like Jackson did in 2013, Maclin should have a career year with this offense.
WR Riley Cooper
(2013 WR Rank—#24, 8.3 FPts/G)
Riley Cooper made headlines during the last offseason as a result of being caught on tape using a racial slur. To his and his teammates credit he was able to move past it quickly and rewarded his teammates faith in him by helping the Eagles reach the postseason as their second-best wide receiver. On the way, he put up a 47-833-8 stat-line and was an integral part of the rushing attack as well due to his skills as a blocker. Cooper, who isn’t known for his blazing speed was able to average 17.8 yards per reception due to his strong frame (6’3”, 222 lbs.) and the trust of his quarterback, Nick Foles, who wasn’t afraid to put the ball up where Cooper could go up and fight for it. This season may be a little tougher for Cooper without Desean Jackson’s downfield speed drawing safety coverage. The team was impressed enough with Cooper’s game, though, to sign him to a five-year $25 million contract this offseason. He should also see himself in the starting lineup once again. With Jackson’s departure and with a full season of Foles throwing him the ball, Cooper could be in for an even bigger season in 2014.
WR Jordan Matthews
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
The Eagles selected Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews with the 42nd overall pick in the NFL Draft. Based on some reports, he has already looked like the best wide receiver on the roster and is slated to start the season in the slot and possibly push Riley Cooper on the outside. Matthews is the all-time leader in catches and yards in the Southeastern Conference history, despite playing for a team that wasn’t known for its prolific passing attack. It’s always a risky proposition to draft a rookie wide out in redraft leagues, but Matthews surely has some sleeper appeal based on his talent and situation. The majority of his fantasy value is likely to come later in the season once he becomes familiar with Chip Kelly’s offense.
TE Zach Ertz
(2013 TE Rank—#20, 4.7 FPts/G)
The tight end position is one of the more difficult transitions from the college ranks into the professional game. Zach Ertz didn’t put up eye-popping numbers (36-469-4), but he showed enough promise on the field that the big leap could be in store during his sophomore campaign. His position coach recently compared him to Hall of Famers Shannon Sharpe and Ozzie Newsome, and while that may be too heavy praise for the youngster, Ertz has the size and athleticism to make plays on Sundays. Many of the Philadelphia beat writers have cited Ertz as a big part of the team’s plans to replace Desean Jackson’s production. A TE1 fantasy season should be in store for Ertz in 2014.
WR Brent Celek
(2013 TE Rank—#14, 5.4 FPts/G)
There was a time when Brent Celek paid dividends to owners who waited before selecting a tight end in fantasy drafts. Those days are no more, however. Celek was reduced to the role of a blocking tight end last season in the Chip Kelly offense and that is not expected to change in 2014.
By: Nick Caron — July 2, 2014 @ 12:39 am
MJD and a long injury history has McFadden’s fantasy value at a career low.
QB Matt Schaub
(2013 QB Rank—#34, 6.1 FPts/G)
It took just one season for the Houston Texans to fall the way from vying for the top seed in the AFC playoffs to picking No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. Although the team went through a number of changes, the lack of quality quarterback play seemed to be the biggest problem that the team faced. A horrendous start to the season from Matt Schaub led to the formerly-considered “franchise” quarterback being benched after Week 6. Although Schaub would see some playing time again in a few spot starts, it was clear that his time in Houston had passed and it was time for both parties to go their separate ways. Schaub now finds himself in an equally terrible situation, but this time he will be without his safety blanket Andre Johnson. Instead Schaub will be working with a hodgepodge group of receivers that he has no chemistry with, on a team that is unlikely to be competitive in many games. Schaub may become a bye week fill-in, but he is unlikely to be drafted in most fantasy leagues and should not be trusted until he can prove that his days of touchdown streaks to the opposing team are behind him.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
(2013 RB Rank—#19, 8.3 FPts/G)
It seems like only yesterday that Maurice Jones-Drew was a lock to be a top-five fantasy draft choice in every league throughout the country, but his days of averaging over 1,500 total yards and 12 touchdowns per season appear to be a thing of the past. Like his quarterback Schaub, Jones-Drew now finds himself across the country, stuck in an uninspiring offense that appears to be set on rekindling past glory of past-their-prime players. Worse yet, Jones-Drew joins a crowded backfield that features fellow former first-round fantasy pick Darren McFadden and second-year speedster Latavius Murray. While Jones-Drew appears to have the upper hand on winning the starting job in Oakland, a running-back-by-committee approach seems very feasible. Even if Jones-Drew does earn the full-time starting gig, it will be in an offense that is likely to be among the very worst in the league, so don’t expect another double-digit touchdown season. Jones-Drew is a high-end RB3 for the time being, with RB2 upside and a significant downside that makes him a risk even late in drafts.
RB Darren McFadden
(2013 RB Rank—#45, 5.7 FPts/G)
How many times are fantasy owners going to get bit by the Darren McFadden bug before we finally all get together and decide we’ve had enough? Don’t look for the trend to end anytime soon as McFadden is still being drafted in the top-10 rounds of most fantasy drafts so far this off-season. There’s no question that the talent is there, but McFadden just doesn’t seem to have the determination to be great anymore and his offensive line certainly hasn’t helped matters. Over the past three seasons, McFadden has played in just 26 games while averaging only 3.8 yards per carry and scoring 11 touchdowns. While his price tag on draft day is at an all-time low, McFadden still represents a significant risk with little upside. It would take an injury to Jones-Drew, a suddenly productive offense and a shockingly healthy McFadden for him to ever return to the fantasy glory he once had, if only for a short while. Nonetheless, McFadden is still worth a late-round flier. Don’t expect much from him, though, or you’re likely going to be let down…again.
RB Latavius Murray
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
The ankle injury that ended the rookie season of former Central Florida running back Latavius Murray leaves fantasy owners scratching their heads as we look forward to the 2014 season. Murray, a monstrous running back who stands 6’3” and weighs around 230 lbs, is the kind of physically-imposing talent that could make opposing defenses shake in their boots. Better yet, his sub-4.40 40-speed makes him an astonishingly gifted athlete with tremendous upside. Unfortunately the coaching staff in Oakland does not seem to have a whole lot of confidence in this second-year tailback. Murray will start the year third on the depth chart behind Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden and will likely remain the low man on the totem pole until the inevitable injury to one of his veteran backfield companions. At that point, Murray could see more playing time and if he can live up to the hype, could be a decent fantasy asset down the stretch. He is currently being drafted as an RB4 or RB5 in most leagues, but possesses much more upside than most of the other players being drafted around or below him.
WR James Jones
(2013 WR Rank—#45, 5.7 FPts/G)
It’s not often that a player leads the entire NFL in receiving touchdowns and then proceeds to be the third receiver drafted from that team in fantasy leagues the following season, but that’s what happened to James Jones in 2013. Jones’ impending regression was obvious to most who follow the game, but even they could not have predicted that he would finish the season with just three touchdowns in the fast-paced Green Bay offense. Jones joins a cast of new faces in the Oakland offense that has yet to gel, but still possesses the talent to be a quality fantasy asset, especially if he does secure one of the starting receiver spots in Oakland. With Schaub behind center instead of Aaron Rodgers, don’t expect to ever see Jones reproduce the numbers he did back in 2012, but this could be a decent bounce-back season for him nevertheless.
WR Denarius Moore
(2013 WR Rank—#41, 5.9 FPts/G)
Moments of brilliance from wide receiver Denarius Moore have been overshadowed by long droughts that have led fantasy owners—and the Raiders—to rethink their commitment to the highly-touted young pass-catcher. Moore has had some incredibly fast starts to his past two seasons including nearly 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns during Weeks 1 through 8 in 2013 and 2014, but has followed them up by some disastrous second-half stats: just 348 yards and three touchdowns. Moore has been the team’s primary deep threat over the past few seasons, but will now compete for those looks with free-agency acquisition Jones, as well as Rod Streater. There is little reason to believe that having a new quarterback behind center named Schaub is going to lead to a sudden surge of consistency from Moore, so drafting him as anything other than a late-round flyer is ill-advised.
WR Rod Streater
(2013 WR Rank—#35, 6.5 FPts/G)
While it was Denarius Moore who had the hype heading into 2013, it was actually second-year receiver Rod Streater who ended up being the most productive receiver wearing silver and black. Streater was surprisingly consistent, locking up at least 40 yards in all but two games while leading the team with 99 targets. Unfortunately, it’s unclear where Streater sits on the depth chart at this time, but it’s safe to assume that he will have more competition for targets now that Jones is in town. Streater will go undrafted in many leagues but could find himself back on fantasy rosters as a bye-week fill-in or if one of the other two receivers goes down with an injury.
TE Mychal Rivera
(2013 TE Rank—#23, 3.8 FPts/G)
Now entering his second year in the league, Mychal Rivera should have the inside track on being the best fantasy tight end in Oakland. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to see the field very often. Early training camp reports indicate that Rivera is working from behind David Ausberry at Raiders OTA’s, likely showing us that the Raiders are more interested in their tight ends being extra blockers than they are with them being dynamic pass-catchers. Rivera’s 38 receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns, most of which came in the second half of the season, go to show that he could be a fantasy option if given the opportunity. Not only that, but with Schaub behind center—the guy who made both Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen into fantasy names—there does to be at least a chance that Rivera could end up on some fantasy rosters by the end of the season. For now, though, we need to wait and see what happens with the Oakland offense. So far, it’s unproven and expected to be among the worst in the league. Furthermore, Rivera isn’t even the starter at his position. Avoid him on draft day, but pay attention to the target distribution throughout the season.
By: Jake Gordon — June 30, 2014 @ 9:56 am
QB Drew Brees
(2013 QB Rank—#2, 27.3 FPts/G)
Since Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton came to New Orleans in 2006, the Saints offense has ranked in the top four of the NFL in yards per game every season. Hitching your wagon to Brees might come with a premium, but he rarely disappoints his fantasy owners. A steady veteran, Brees connected on 15 passes of 40+ yards and eclipsed 300 passing yards in 11 of 16 contests during the 2013 regular season en route to his third straight year with over 5,000 yards. He even found a way to decrease his interception total from the previous year. The only downside was the increase in games without multiple touchdown passes. After failing to throw for at least two scores only three times during the 2012 regular season, Brees amassed five such games a year ago. The loss of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore will certainly have an impact on the Saints signal caller but not enough to push him out of the top-five fantasy quarterbacks.
RB Pierre Thomas
(2013 RB Rank—#23, 8.5 FPts/G)
Pierre Thomas continued to be a quality value on draft day in 2013 after posting over 1,000 total yards for the first time since 2009. Those owners who were lucky enough to snatch him up in PPR leagues were also rewarded with a career best 77 receptions—six more than Darren Sproles. Heading into the 2014 campaign, Thomas should be the starter out of the backfield. The team’s desire to use several running backs to shoulder the load keeps Thomas from being a top-25 fantasy running back, though. His reception total is sustainable considering how many passes Drew Brees throws to his running backs and the departure of Sproles. Far from elite, the seven-year veteran could once again be a relative bargain on draft day.
RB Khiry Robinson
(2013 RB Rank—#79, 2.8 FPts/G)
As an undrafted free agent, Khiry Robinson put himself into a position to garner more carries late last season when he scored his first career touchdown and averaged 4.6 yards per carry during the Saints’ final three games of the year. Likely to begin the season No. three on the depth chart this season, Robinson will have limited fantasy value when the season opens barring an injury to Pierre Thomas or Mark Ingram during training camp. Fantasy owners seeking a potential lotto ticket, however, will likely see Robinson as a worthy upside option. If he is able to somehow convince the Saints to give him a dozen carries per game he will have value as a flex option.
RB Mark Ingram
(2013 RB Rank—#62, 4.7 FPts/G)
Mark Ingram enters the final year of his rookie deal without much fanfare as he has yet to provide the Saints or fantasy owners with steady production. Of the 10 New Orleans rushing scores in 2013, Ingram was only responsible for one. Pierre Thomas led the way while Ingram was hampered by injuries, receiving double-digit carries only twice during the regular season. The Saints will need him to show the same physicality and quickness he flashed during his collegiate career if they are to extend him another contract offer. Optimistic owners will bank on a motivated runner with plenty of talent and a cheap price tag. Those more adverse to risk will see another Heisman Trophy winner who fizzled on the NFL stage.
WR Marques Colston
(2013 WR Rank—#27, 8.3 FPts/G)
Marques Colston turned 31 this offseason and is coming off his least-productive fantasy season since an injury-plagued 2008. As long as Drew Brees is leading the offense, Colston will have the chance to be a relevant fantasy option. Tthe days of Colston being a steady producer as a WR1 are behind us, however. Younger options in Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks are poised to see the field more in 2014 yet Colston remains the most polished and trusted target amongst the team’s receiving corps. While continued decline isn’t out of the question, the Hofstra alumnus could easily see his touchdown total increase this year to make him a low-end WR2.
WR Kenny Stills
(2013 WR Rank—#47, 5.9 FPts/G)
The Saints’ decision to release Lance Moore translates to a vote of confidence in Kenny Stills. A second-year player out of Oklahoma, Stills should see more balls thrown his way in 2014. Will it be enough to make him fantasy relevant on a weekly basis, though? Like many Saints wideouts, Drew Brees’ knack for spreading the ball to everyone is a blessing and a curse. Simply replacing Moore’s production would make him a useful WR4. On the other hand, Marques Colston’s decline and injury history combined with Stills’ continued development into a reliable move-the-chains type of receiver makes him attractive late in drafts. A strong training camp will solidify his starting position opposite Colston and see his fantasy stock start to rise as the season nears.
WR Brandin Cooks
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
Rookie wideout Brandin Cooks missed the Saints’ mini-camps and most OTAs because Oregon State’s school year runs a little longer than other programs. To make up for lost time, the 2013 Biletnikoff award winner plans on working with QB Drew Brees prior to the start of training camp. His explosive speed should make him an instant threat in the Saints vertical passing game while his quickness will give him chances to make plays after the catch. He should fit the offense perfectly, but may need some seasoning before being a solid fantasy contributor.
King of the Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham has 36 touchdowns over the last three years.
TE Jimmy Graham
(2013 TE Rank—#1, 13.6 FPts/G)
A TE1 with WR1 production, Jimmy Graham will carry the torch as the top fantasy TE entering the year. In only his fourth year as a starter, Graham will try to become even more consistent after seeing his production slip over the course of the 2013 season following a hot start. As defenses continually evolve to handle the likes of Graham, there is a chance they succeed as Seattle did during last year’s divisional playoff game in limiting Graham to a single catch on six targets. Fantasy owners considering the stud TE in the first round will no doubt place their confidence in position dominance. Yet that gap may not be as large as it appears given a modest regression in the touchdown column and increased yardage totals from fellow tight ends Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas, among others. Regardless of how you feel on draft day, Graham will likely set the pace for all tight ends once again.
By: Colby Cavaliere — June 27, 2014 @ 1:23 pm
Cutler is primed for his second 4000-yard passing season if he can stay healthy.
QB Jay Cutler
(2013 QB Rank—#24, 19.9 FPts/G)
The Chicago Bears clearly put their franchise in the hands of Jay Cutler for the foreseeable future and paid him like an elite quarterback, lavished him with a fresh seven-year, $126 million deal in the offseason. Should fantasy owners feel the same confidence? Cutler has always been on the fringe of being a consistent fantasy starter, but injury, scheme or sieve-like offensive line play have always conspired to keep him from being a reliable QB1. In 2013, with a new coach, offensive philosophy and towering targets in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett, Cutler was off to a strong start, throwing for 12 scores after the first six games. But serious groin and ankle injuries caused Cutler to miss significant snaps and left the door open for Josh McCown to have career resurgence.
Enjoying a healthy and productive offseason, Cutler is an intriguing option for owners looking for a sneaky value pick at quarterback. Blessed with a terrific system, mentality and elite receiving options, Cutler is primed for a repeat of his 2008 season in Denver when he passed for 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. His injury concerns are valid because of the die-hard way he plays the game, but looking at his medical history, there are no sign of chronic, repeated problems. His arm has always been healthy, and despite missing 12 games over the last three years (six of which were from a freak thumb injury), he is a very tough field general who plays and effectively so, although they’re minor injuries. Fantasy owners looking to stockpile receiver or running back talent before landing a quarterback should keep Cutler in mind. Currently hovering in low tier QB1/upper QB2 territory, Cutler has the gridiron environment to possibly sneak his way into the middle tier and become a real steal.
RB Matt Forte
(2013 RB Rank —#3, 16.6 FPts/G)
The demise of the elite, reliable volume running back has been swift and harsh. Fortunately for his fantasy owners, someone forgot to tell Matt Forte. Forte continues to be one of the game’s best dual threats and reliable ball carriers, as he posted another fantastic season in 2013 with 1,339 yards on the ground, along with 75 catches for an additional 592 yards receiving. Forte also tied his career high with 12 total scores. He set career highs as a receiver in Marc Tressman’s new offensive system, and his work as a pass receiver sets him apart from many of his peers. What makes Forte such a valuable fantasy asset is not only his ability to carry your team to victory once or twice a year, but his consistency. He ranks No. 2 in FFToday’s consistency ratings at running back with only three games scoring single-digit fantasy points. Forte continues to play at an elite level, even as he enters the season at 28 years old. Combining superior vision and tackle-breaking ability even without blazing speed, especially in the screen game, Forte will benefit from several factors entering this season. Draft him, plug him in as your offensive centerpiece and pray he stays healthy!
RB Ka’Deem Carey
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Fourth-round rookies buried behind veteran superstars usually garner few fantasy headlines. Winning fantasy owners don’t read headlines, though. They look deeper. Coming off a ridiculous 1,885-19-5.4 season for the Arizona Wildcats, Ka’Deem Carey plummeted to the middle rounds due to a lackluster 40-yard dash time and character issues. Possessing many of the similar traits as starter Matt Forte – body control, lateral agility and pass receiving ability – Carey inds himself in a fertile environment to develop. He won’t be asked to play many snaps, barring an injury to Forte, but should that happen, Carey has the volume opportunity to provide some tremendous RB2 value to the forward thinking owner. Carey might be one of the few “must own” handcuffs in the league, and Forte owners will be sure to draft him, but don’t be scared to select him and stash him on your bench even if don’t own the Tulane star.
RB Shaun Draughn
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
In a time when running back talent is as scarce as ever, it’s important to pay close attention to camp battles at backup spots. Although the talent and pedigree of Ka’Deem Carey should propel him to the back-up RB spot in Chicago, watch closely the amount of reps second-year undrafted free-agent Michael Ford and veteran journeyman Shaun Draughn receive in pre-season practice. Coach Marc Tressman isn’t going to lock anyone into backup slots too soon, so be thorough in your research and preparation. Sometimes the most expensive diamonds have to be mined from the deepest caves.
WR Brandon Marshall
(2013 WR Rank—#6, 12.6 FPts/G)
Obscure duo references notwithstanding, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler are as locked-at-the-hip as they come in professional sports. Signing his own mega contract extension this offseason, Marshall seems to have contained his demons and focused on becoming a professional football player. Combining rare physical gifts with boundless emotion, Marshall has entered the prime of his career improving his technical and mental game. While he underperformed in overall yardage and catch totals since 2012, Marshall still had over 100 catches for the fifth time in his career and had a personal-best 12 touchdown grabs. For as long as they are together, Cutler will have his radar locked on to Marshall, which makes him one of the most reliable pass catchers in the league. The emergence of fellow wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey and the continued threat of Matt Forte mean defenses can’t scheme Marshall out of the game. Expect another season of 90+ catches, 1,200 yards and double digit touchdowns, landing Marshall in the upper tier of WR1s.
WR Alshon Jeffery
(2013 WR Rank—#9, 12.2 FPts/G)
After the first three games of the 2013 season, Alshon Jeffery had 13 catches for 104 yards and zero touchdowns, not a great start for a highly touted second-round pick coming off a disappointing rookie year. So, forgive the fantasy world if they didn’t see the 1,317 yards and seven touchdowns that came in the final 13 games. Jeffrey was one of fantasy’s biggest and most surprising stars of the 2013 season. After a top-10 finish, though, can fantasy owners expect a repeat performance? The quick answer is not exactly. Brandon Marshall continues to be a target monster as long as Jay Cutler remains under center, which means that on most afternoons, Jeffrey is at best the No. 2 option in the passing game. While it’s true that the target, yardage and touchdown numbers for Jeffrey were very similar no matter if Cutler or McCown were under center, Jeffrey was the recipient of a number of miraculous catches and jump balls. These are all a testament to his amazing skills, but they are also similarly hard to duplicate. As defenses focus more attention on Jeffrey, his yardage totals will drop, as more frequent safety help over the top comes his way. As a young player he still lacks the refinement in his route tree to be a consistent short and intermediate target, but his yards-after-catch skills – 15th among wide receivers – means the drop-off might not be as severe as it could be. Feel comfortable drafting Jeffrey as a low-end WR1 and ecstatic if he is your WR2, as he has the skillset, scheme and gunslinger quarterback to be a high-end receiver for years to come.
WR Marquess Wilson
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
A fantasy no name in 2013, Wilson barely registered on the stat sheet as he finished the season with two catches and 13 yards. Don’t be shocked if he surpasses those numbers in the first half of the opener against the Bills. Thanks to the emergence of teammate Alshon Jeffrey (similar frame and skillset) and release of Cutler-favorite Earl Bennett, fantasy owners have noticed Wilson this preseason. Expected to win the WR3 job, Wilson remains someone to keep an eye on, if not during your draft, then during the season as a waiver pickup. Should an injury befall Brandon Marshall or Jeffrey, the towering former seventh-round pick could have the opportunity to make a prepared fantasy owner very happy.
TE Martellus Bennett
(2013 TE Rank—#10, 6.6 FPts/G)
Despite several stops in his NFL career, highly-touted TE Martellus Bennett has never become an explosive, field-stretching pass receiver like some thought he would be when the Cowboys made him a second-round pick in 2008. He has become is a solid, reliable target for Chicago Bears quarterbacks, though. Bennett is the ideal TE for the owner with a solid all-around roster. He finished eighth or ninth among all tight ends in targets, catches and yards last season, making him at best, a low-end TE1 option. You won’t mind starting Bennett if you have to or sitting him for a gamble, so he is a great option for owners looking for some decent production while they sit and wait on a young, high-upside TE2s like Eric Ebron, Zach Ertz or Ladarius Green.
By: Sal Marcoccio — June 26, 2014 @ 9:34 am
QB EJ Manuel
(2013 QB Rank—#28, 17.3 FPts/G)
EJ Manuel had an up-and-down rookie season, but not every quarterback is going to have a rookie season like Robert Griffith III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson did in 2012. While it’s true that rookie quarterbacks are now more equipped to enter the league and hit the ground running, it’s still a tremendously difficult transition to make, and it would be unwise to call a rookie quarterback a “bust” after one season in the league. Manuel threw for 1,972 yards with 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He also ran for 186 yards and two scores. He compiled those statistics in only 10 games, as he was forced to miss six games with multiple knee injuries. Manuel was considered a raw prospect coming out of Florida State, so one could look at his completion percentage of 58.8% as a positive, and hope to see some improvement in his sophomore campaign. Reports from Buffalo’s OTAs have not been all that positive, though. Manuel is said to be struggling with accuracy, sailing too many passes over the heads of his wide receivers. He is athletic enough to make plays with his legs, but he doesn’t always look to run when the opportunity presents itself. The Bills made a bold move to trade up in this year’s NFL draft to acquire wide receiver Sammy Watkins in order to surround their young franchise quarterback with weapons. Their high-tempo offense will make Manuel a potential high upside late-round pick as a backup quarterback for your fantasy team if he can show some improvement. His three knee injuries from last season (requiring an offseason knee scope) and the decision to have him wear a knee brace this season could limit any advantage one would expect to gain from a “running” quarterback. Keep an eye on Manuel this preseason and see if he looks to be moving around well, because there is some potential for a major leap in production from his rookie season.
Spiller’s fantasy prospects hinge on him staying healthy for the majority of the season.
RB C.J. Spiller
(2013 RB Rank—#27, 8.3 FPts/G)
C.J. Spiller was a tremendous disappointment to those owners who used a first-round pick to draft him last season based on his tantalizing skill set and his coaching staff’s promise to “run him until he pukes.” Due to an early season high ankle sprain, Spiller decreased his workload, but he was still effective running the ball, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Of course that was still a steep drop from his 6.0-yard-per-carry average in 2012. Spiller’s numbers dropped across the board as his total yards went from 1,703 to 1,112, 8 to 2 in touchdowns and 43 to 33 in receptions. The staff has talked up an expanded role for the former Clemson Tiger once again. With his ankle now fully recovered, Fred Jackson entering the season at 33 years old and with the Bills commitment to the run, Spiller could end up as a draft-day bargain. Short-sighted owners, who are only looking at his 2012 numbers, are missing Spiller’s elite-level speed, great lateral agility and a toughness that belies his smallish stature. The Bills led the NFL in rushing attempts (546) last season and should be near the top of that list once again this season. If Spiller is able to grab the lion’s share of those carries a top-10 season is easily within his reach. Although he does have a $2.1MM player option for the 2015 season, he will be entering the last season of his rookie contract in 2014, so he’ll be playing for his last big payday this year. Health + Motivation + Talent + Opportunity = Good Things for Spiller in 2014.
RB Fred Jackson
(2013 RB Rank—#11, 11.7 FPts/G)
It would be easy to write off Fred Jackson, who turned 33 years old back in February, but then again the man is coming off of a season where he put up 1,283 total yards while scoring 10 touchdowns. He was able to finish last season as RB11 despite splitting carries with C.J. Spiller. Jackson has surprised people throughout his entire career, beginning with coming out of practically nowhere at age 26, after spending his early professional years playing in low level indoor leagues, t0 work his way into a timeshare with Marshawn Lynch, a player drafted at No. 12 overall in the NFL draft. So, don’t be too surprised if he’s able to hold off father time for at least one more season. Jackson is a complete back who is equally adept at taking the ball inside to earn tough yards, busting one outside of the tackles or catching passes out of the backfield. At his age and with Spiller healthy, Jackson will most likely see his workload scaled back a bit this year. It’s even possible that at some point during the season that he starts to give way to the younger Bryce Brown, who was acquired via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason.
RB Bryce Brown
(2013 RB Rank—#60, 3.5 FPts/G)
Bryce Brown is known in fantasy circles as the guy who stepped in for an injured LeSean McCoy in 2012 and proceeded to rush for 347 yards and four touchdowns in his first two NFL starts. It’s been mostly downhill since then. Last season Brown was passed up on the depth chart by Chris Polk for the backup position to McCoy, making him expendable this offseason. The Bills stepped in and acquired him for a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick during the draft. Brown is a big back at 6’0, 220 pounds with rare speed for his size, but he struggled after the historic start to his career due to his penchant for trying to bounce every play outside for big gains instead of taking what the defense gives him. Given the fact that the Bills ran the ball more than any other team in 2013, Jackson’s age, Spiller’s injury history and his career average of 4.6 yards per carry, Brown makes an intriguing late-round selection in fantasy drafts.
WR Sammy Watkins
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
In a bold draft-day move the Bills traded their eighth overall pick and their 2015 first-round pick to move up to the fourth pick in order to select Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. That should tell fantasy owners all they need to know. Watkins will be heavily targeted even as a rookie. Recent trends have shown that rookie wide receivers have been better suited in making the jump from the college game to the professional game than in the past. Nevertheless fantasy owners will still need to temper expectations. Watkins has rare acceleration after the catch. The Bills could use him in many of the same ways his college team used him – on bubble screens and shorter pass routes. The offense will rely on him to make plays after the catch. Watkins is not physically imposing at 6’1” and 210 pounds, but he does have tremendous leg strength and excels at breaking tackles. He should immediately step into the Bills’ starting lineup, so the opportunity will be there for him to produce. Don’t reach for him, but if he does fall in drafts he’ll likely be a better option than a mediocre veteran who may be left on the board when it’s time for you to make a selection.
WR Robert Woods
(2013 WR Rank—#58, 5.6 FPts/G)
Fellow rookies Robert Woods and EJ Manuel seemed to develop some chemistry with each other before injuries hit both youngsters at various times during the course of the season. Woods finished his rookie season with a 40-587-3 stat line but capped it off with offseason ankle surgery. The former second-round pick should open the season opposite rookie Sammy Watkins and will probably kick inside to the slot in three wide receiver sets. Woods runs sharp routes and has steady hands and projects to be a solid possession wide out at the professional level and could develop into Manuel’s “go to guy” since they have already established a level of rapport after breaking into the league together. It’s hard to imagine eye-popping statistics from Woods this year, but in PPR leagues, he could be worth a shot as a late-round depth player.
WR Mike Williams
(2013 WR Rank—#110, 5.6 FPts/G)
Mike Williams only played in six games last season finishing with a disappointing 22 receptions and two touchdowns. He then found himself traded to a team coached by his former college coach Doug Marrone. The good news is that Marrone likely signed off on the acquisition, but the bad news is that Williams quit on his Syracuse team. Williams has been a legitimate red zone threat throughout his professional career, scoring eleven touchdowns as a rookie and nine touchdowns in 2012. The latest reports from OTAs is that Williams is getting first team reps in three wide receiver sets and he could end up leading the Bills in touchdown receptions this season.
TE Scott Chandler
(2013 TE Rank—#18, 4.8 FPts/G)
Scott Chandler is one of the least inspiring starting tight ends from a fantasy football perspective in the league. To be honest, he’s nothing special from an NFL perspective either, since he’s a poor blocker. In an era where we’ve seen a shift in the position, Chandler is more of a throwback player, and watching him lumber down the field is not what the fans are paying to see. At 6’7”, one would think that he would at least be a legitimate red zone specialist, but alas Chandler’s career high for touchdown receptions is six, which he has accomplished twice. You can do better.
WR Tony Moeaki
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
Tony Moeaki is a guy who has intrigued fantasy owners since he entered the league as a Kansas City Chief, but he has seen setbacks to his career due to his injuries. Moeaki opened last season on the IR and was picked up by Buffalo after being waived by Kansas City. Reports have indicated that Moeaki could threaten Scott Chandler’s starting role this season and as the superior blocker and pass catcher between the two, those reports are likely to prove accurate. The tight end position in Buffalo, however, is unlikely to be a productive one in fantasy football and should likely be disregarded by fantasy owners in all but the deepest of leagues.
By: Nick Caron — June 24, 2014 @ 9:41 am
Rivers was undervalued last season, finishing 6th among fantasy QBs with 359 FPts.
QB Philip Rivers
(2013 QB Rank—#6, 17.3 FPts/G)
Former top-five fantasy quarterback Philip Rivers and his incredible bounce-back 2013 season gave fantasy owners something to look forward to heading into this year. His six games with three or more touchdown passes made him a high reward player, but he was also incredibly consistent, throwing at least one touchdown pass in every game. Rivers’ chemistry with rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen creates fantasy excellence, but the lack of high-end pass-catching talent among the rest of the players should concern fantasy owners. The departure of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt could be another reason to be worried, or maybe not, as Rivers has produced in the past without Whisenhunt calling the plays.
RB Ryan Mathews
(2013 RB Rank—#10, 18.43 FPts/G)
After a few seasons of fantasy disappointment, Ryan Mathews finally showed glimpses of what made him a first-round draft pick back in 2010. Mathews recorded career-high numbers in rushing yards (1,255) and total touchdowns (7). This all happened despite a dreadful start to the season, rushing for an average of just 47 yards per game through the first five games of the year. He was able to change that around, however, as the Chargers offense became more balanced and he finished with an average of 93 yards per game through the final 11 games. Best yet, Mathews was finally able to shed the label of being injury-prone, as he played in all 16 games for the first time in his career. Mathews could complete another quality fantasy season, but Donald Brown joins the already crowded backfield, bumping Mathews down to a mid-level RB2 in most formats.
RB Danny Woodhead
(2013 RB Rank—#19, 8.3 FPts/G)
Few running backs can be called a “better version of Darren Sproles,” but Danny Woodhead may have earned that distinction after an incredible first season in San Diego when he caught 76 passes for 605 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 429 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, making him one of the most valuable assets in Points-Per-Reception leagues and still a quality RB2 in standard scoring formats. It would be difficult for Woodhead to replicate this kind of production in the receiving game for a second straight season, especially with Donald Brown in the backfield, but even if his catches dropped to closer around the 60 range, he would still be a rock solid RB2 in PPR formats.
RB Donald Brown
(2013 RB Rank—#26, 7.1 FPts/G)
The addition of Trent Richardson in Indianapolis should have meant the end of fantasy relevancy for Donald Brown, but an incredibly awful season from Richardson meant that Brown stuck around and even finished the season with significantly more production than his backfield counterpart. Brown tallied seven total touchdowns over his final eight games of the season. Still, Brown was the odd man out in Indianapolis and now, he finds himself in a new situation, across the country in San Diego. Brown will likely go undrafted in most leagues, but due to Ryan Mathews and his susceptibilities to injuries, Brown becomes a viable handcuff option, as he would be the most likely player to see a significant uptick in touches should Mathews miss time.
WR Keenan Allen
(2013 WR Rank—#17, 8.8 FPts/G)
Wide receiver Keenan Allen exploded in the fantasy scene in his 2013 rookie season, catching 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. His unexpected chemistry with veteran quarterback Philip Rivers really began once Malcom Floyd went down with an injury in Week 3. From that point on, few receivers in the entire league were more productive than Allen. Reports say that Allen has spent the offseason working on his pure speed, which could mean more explosive plays from him this year. Yet, Allen’s upside is still somewhat limited. The team’s other receivers should be healthier this season, which could lead to fewer total passes coming his way. Either way, though, Allen will start the season as a high-end WR.
WR Malcom Floyd
(2013 WR Rank—#126, 0.9 FPts/G)
A potentially career-threatening neck injury cut Malcom Floyd’s 2013 season short in Week 2, but reports from camp indicate that the 6’5” skyscraper already looks like his former self. If he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, Floyd should start the season across from Allen as the team’s deep ball specialist. He has some serious playmaking ability, but he has never been able to put together enough consistency to become a serious week-to-week fantasy option. Nevertheless, Floyd in a pass-happy offense across from another talented receiver could give him some fantasy value in 2014.
WR Eddie Royal
(2013 WR Rank—#35, 6.5 FPts/G)
Few could have possibly predicted the return to fantasy relevance for Eddie Royal. While he led the league in touchdown receptions early in the season, catching five in the first two games of the season, Royal and his production took a steep fall off from that point on. Royal only caught three more touchdowns for the remainder of the season, including just one in the final eight games of the season. Royal has always had the talent to be a decent player, but he is so inconsistent, making him a frustrating fantasy option. He will likely start the season as the third receiver in this San Diego offense and shouldn’t be much more than a fantasy WR5 to start the year.
TE Antonio Gates
(2013 TE Rank—#9, 6.4 FPts/G)
Antonio Gates is on his way out, but he is still a fantasy name worth noting, especially as one of the greatest fantasy tight ends of all-time. His 77 receptions in 2013 led the team and his 872 yards and four touchdowns helped make him a top-10 fantasy tight end yet again. Although his overall season numbers looked solid, it’s worth noting that Gates had only one game with double-digit fantasy points (in standard scoring) in his final 12 games of the season. Gates will slide down to the later rounds given the high upside of some of the younger tight ends in fantasy. If tight end is a position that you wait on, though, he is a low-risk player who could still produce decent low-end TE1 numbers.
TE Ladarius Green
(2013 TE Rank—#29, 3.3 FPts/G)
Your high-upside play in the San Diego offense is unquestionably 24-year-old tight end Ladarius Green, who has been the talk of many fantasy circles this offseason. While Antonio Gates took a noticeable step back in 2013, Green began showing off his playmaking ability. Rivers has been gushing about the potential that he sees in Green, who should see significantly more snaps than he did this past season. Green is being drafted higher than Gates in most leagues with the presumption that he is the player with the higher ceiling at this point in the players’ respective careers. With that said, he is still behind Gates on the depth chart and will continue to fight for playing time until he eventually becomes the top tight end in San Diego. When that time comes, the sky truly is the limit for this highly-skilled young pass-catcher. Unfortunately, if you want this kind of upside, you’re going to need to take a big risk. He’s going in the top-10 rounds of most drafts this offseason and could see that go up with a productive preseason.
By: Jake Gordon — June 21, 2014 @ 5:10 pm
QB Matt Ryan
(2013 QB Rank—#9, 21.0 FPts/G)
Atlanta continued its transition to a more open passing offense in 2013 as Matt Ryan set career highs in pass attempts, completions and interceptions. Expect more of the same from the veteran signal caller in 2014. In fact, he might be even better, considering the 26 TDs he threw last year were his lowest total since 2009. If Ryan is to be a top-five fantasy quarterback this year it will start with a healthier offensive line. First-round draft pick Jake Matthews will be plugged in at right tackle, while Sam Baker returns from a knee injury on the left side. Additionally, Jon Asamoah was brought in from Kansas City to help inside, and the whole group will be coached up by Mike Tice. New faces do not always translate into success, but Atlanta has definitely upgraded its talent level across the line, which should translate into less sacks and more time for Atlanta’s offense to work downfield. Add the healthy return of Julio Jones’ dynamic playmaking ability, along with the steadiness of Roddy White, and Matt Ryan is likely to see his stock rise back to where it was before injuries derailed the offense. It also doesn’t hurt to have a pair of running backs who could combine to catch 100 balls in Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. Surrounded by playmakers, Ryan has a good shot at posting his second career 30-TD season and should be taken after Brees, Rodgers and Manning are called on draft day.
RB Steven Jackson
(2013 RB Rank—#32, 9.6 FPts/G)
Steven Jackson is one of the tougher players to project for 2014. Muddying analysis of his seeming decline is the fact that he was hurt and playing behind a less-than-stellar offensive line in 2013. Atlanta’s willingness to forge ahead with Jackson atop the depth chart despite plenty of wear and a possible breakdown means Atlanta’s brass either likes the team’s depth at the position or feels Jackson has something left in the gas tank. For now, fantasy owners should expect Jackson to be fine to open the season and maintain his role as the primary running back on first and second downs. Jacquizz Rodgers has shown enough ability to get regular touches, but head coach Mike Smith has never displayed much of a desire to let him shoulder the load on a consistent basis. With Jackson’s playing time relatively safe barring injury, he should average roughly 15 touches per contest on the ground and through the air. Remembering that Jackson failed to reach pay dirt until week 12 last season, fantasy owners may let him slip in drafts a little further than he should, but that may not be wise. He is a tad bit safer in PPR leagues, but remains an RB3 with slight upside in standard formats.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
(2013 RB Rank—#42, 6.1 FPts/G)
Although Jacquizz Rodgers has seemed to out-produce Steven Jackson in limited action, he’s never been able to gain enough carries to be a reliable source of fantasy production. His pass-catching abilities have allowed him to tally back-to-back 50-reception seasons, and another could be in store for him. The team drafted Devonta Freeman out of Florida State to add depth and upside for the future, but he shouldn’t be much of a threat to Rodgers this season. Entering the final season of his rookie deal, Rodgers should be plenty motivated to carve out a bigger role in Atlanta or elsewhere. Although he may see an uptick in his carries, his role is likely to remain unchanged for 2014, making him a flex option in PPR leagues and an RB4 or RB5 in traditional formats.
RB Devonta Freeman
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Devonta Freeman was drafted as a potential replacement for Steven Jackson and his all-around game seems to hint at potential feature back status given his sturdy build and explosiveness, pass-catching skills and blocking ability. That being said, he is still very much a rookie and is not projected to have much of a role this year. Fantasy owners in dynasty formats should keep an eye on the former Seminole, as he does offer plenty of intrigue as a dual-threat option on a formidable offense in the not-too-distant future.
Julio was headed toward a top-five fantasy season before injuring his foot in Week 5.
WR Julio Jones
(2013 WR Rank—#64, 14.1 FPts/G)
Julio Jones was well on his way to posting a terrific fantasy campaign in 2013 before a foot injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The only limiting factor for Jones in 2014 is his health, which has kept him limited in OTAs to this point. He has had plenty of recovery time since the surgery and is already running routes, so fantasy owners should feel fine drafting him among the elite receivers at his position. Matt Ryan threw to Jones 60 times in only five games last season. That number represented nearly half of Jones’ season total in 2012. Jones will garner plenty of attention from opposing defenses, but that isn’t likely to prevent Matt Ryan from finding him down the field. The stars are aligning for Jones to have a career season so long as he can stave off the injury bug.
WR Roddy White
(2013 WR Rank—#52, 6.9 FPts/G)
This season will mark Roddy White’s 10th year in the NFL as he tries to rebound from an uninspiring 2013 that saw him injured and scoring only 1 TD through week 10. However, there are reasons to be optimistic on draft day. White posted respectable fantasy numbers over the final five weeks of last season and will take over as the primary possession option now that Tony Gonzalez has decided to retire. The team has decided to keep him out of OTAs but that decision was purely preventative, aimed at reducing the workload of one of Matt Ryan’s favorite targets. Prior to 2013, White was one of the most reliable sources of targets and receptions for fantasy owners, and though he will not be the No. 1 receiving option on his team, there is a good chance he surpasses 80 receptions and 1,000 yards for the seventh time in his career.
WR Harry Douglas
(2013 WR Rank—#32, 7.4 FPts/G)
Harry Douglas represents a bit of a fantasy wild card entering the 2014 season. Until 2013, Douglas had never caught 40 balls in a season. His production last year, finishing 15th in the NFL in receptions, was directly related to opportunity, and he will be the third receiver on the depth chart to open 2014. However, the Falcons’ passing offense has the potential to support three worthy fantasy receivers, especially with reports of the spread offense being integrated even more this year. In addition, the Falcons have brought in ex-Bear Devin Hester to handle special teams duties, which will free up Douglas to focus solely on offense. If nothing else, Douglas will have more trust from Matt Ryan and find enough targets to be fantasy relevant as a bye-week substitute. He is a WR3/4 with some upside considering the offense and potential injury risk of Jones and White.
TE Levine Toilolo
(2013 TE Rank—#57, 1.8 FPts/G)
Tony Gonzalez leaves some rather large shoes to fill and fantasy owners need to do what the Falcons have done: Move on and look elsewhere for offensive output. A fourth-round pick in 2013, Levine Toilolo is expected to be a more traditional blocking tight end that won’t have much fantasy value this year. He will likely find a way to notch a score or three in red zone packages, but he won’t be a reliable enough source of fantasy production to be anything more than a desperation play in deep formats.
By: Colby Cavaliere — June 20, 2014 @ 11:04 am
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Bush should be a PPR star but he may have a hard time duplicating his 2013 season.
QB Matthew Stafford
(2013 QB Rank—#4, 23.0 FPts/G)
Can sixth-year gunslinger Matt Stafford be the quarterback to serve a potential fantasy smorgasbord to owners in 2014? The Detroit Lions have focused their offseason on giving their franchise quarterback the pieces necessary for them to become a top-flight offense, copying the blueprint of the prolific New Orleans Saints. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi brings the New Orleans scheme, and Lions brass, led by new head coach Jim Caldwell, have brought in the personnel in rookie tight end Eric Ebron and YAC maven Golden Tate. Stafford has never had a problem amassing impressive box scores, with 14,000-plus yards passing and 96 total TDs over the past three seasons. Drew Brees ascended to fantasy elite status in a similar system, but Stafford currently lacks the mechanics, efficiency and system experience of Brees, so fantasy owners expecting comparable results might be disappointed. That said, count on Stafford to approach another 4,500-yard, 30-plus TD season (a solid bet for top-five numbers), offering a more consistent TD/interception ratio on a game-by-game basis, as he will actually have short-to-intermediate route runners in Ebron and Tate and won’t have to force big plays downfield. Savvy owners will also notice the three-game homestretch at domed Ford Field late in the fantasy season in weeks 13-15.
RB Reggie Bush
(2013 RB Rank—#10, 13.8 FPts/G)
Reggie Bush was everything the Lions hoped he would be when they signed him in the previous offseason. He provided a big-play threat at the running back position—displaying dazzling tackle-breaking ability and sure hands—on his way to 1,000-plus yards rushing and more than 500 yards receiving. Bush stayed relatively healthy, playing in 14 games, but missed parts of others with nagging lower-body injuries. In an effort to keep Bush fresh, the Lions utilized Joique Bell in a similar role. Fantasy owners and Lions coaches soon realized that the fundamentally sound Bell could be trusted as a runner and receiver. With Bell signed to an extension, and a familiar system in the works, expect Bush’s carry numbers to drop but his receptions to rise as he slides into a Darren Sproles type of role in the offense. Bush should shine in PPR leagues, but barring a rash of injuries to the stable of Lions RBs, expect him to have a hard time approaching his top-10 finish of 2013, becoming more of an RB2/3 option.
RB Joique Bell
(2013 RB Rank—#17, 10.5 FPts/G)
Coming off a 2013 performance that included 50 catches, 8 TDs and nearly 1,200 total yards, Joique Bell inked a new three-year, $9.3 million deal this offseason. Bell makes up for his lack of measurables and elite athleticism by being a fundamentally sound and extremely disciplined football player—and on a team with elite passing weapons, sometimes that’s enough to get the job done. Doing work as a runner and receiver, Bell has amassed back-to-back 50-catch seasons as a mostly change-of-pace running back. As the offense morphs into New Orleans North, expect Bell to fill the Pierre Thomas role in the offense. Keep a close eye on Bell’s health as camp approaches—he has missed all offseason minicamps and OTAs with a lingering knee injury. Missing the early install of a new offense could get Bell off to a slow start, but expect him to approach and possibly surpass his ground numbers of 2013 (166-650-3.9), as he remains the Lions’ best between-the-tackles and goal-line runner. With the additions of Eric Ebron and Golden Tate, Bell no longer remains Matt Stafford’s first option in the short-passing game. If Reggie Bush remains healthy for 16 games, don’t be shocked to see a slight dip in Bell’s reception totals. With an uptick in touch totals, however, Bell makes for a decent option as an RB2, with a possibility for more should Bush miss any time.
RB Theo Riddick / RB Mikel Leshoure
(2013 RB Ranks—N/A)
On most teams, fantasy owners wouldn’t be all that concerned with a battle for the No. 3 running back spot. But this offensive scheme has a habit of including as many as three running backs in the game plan, so smart owners would be wise to see who wins the camp battle, and take notes. Theo Riddick, the sixth-round runner from Notre Dame, totaled just 13 touches last season. Mikel Leshoure, the former first-round pick, never worked his way out of the doghouse, totaling just two touches last year after racking up nearly 1,000 total yards and 9 TDs in 2012. At this point, neither RB is worth owning in anything less than the deepest of leagues, but should an injury befall Joique Bell or Reggie Bush, Riddick and Leshoure have the game to come in and potentially be valuable bench players.
WR Calvin Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—#3, 15.8 FPts/G)
Could help finally be on the way for Megatron? Will Golden Tate or Eric Ebron fill the role of Starscream? (You’re welcome, Transformers fans!) Season after season, Calvin Johnson had to shoulder the passing load for a Lions team that was simply unable to find a complementary receiver. The otherworldly Johnson stepped up to do his best superhero impression again last year, racking up an 84-1,489-12 line in only 14 games. So will the addition of Tate and Ebron impact Johnson’s numbers negatively or positively? A look at Johnson’s mates in the top five last year proves that it helps to be the MAN in the passing game. Between Johnson, A.J. Green, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, only Thomas had a teammate finish in the top 20. If Tate continues his solid play, and Ebron is as advertised, expect Johnson’s yardage totals to take a slight dip in 2014, but his catches and touchdown totals could slightly increase with the reduced defensive attention he receives. Any way you slice it, Johnson is a lock for the top five, and the potential top pick at WR.
WR Golden Tate
(2013 WR Rank—#29, 7.7 FPts/G)
Despite having only 64 catches last season, Golden Tate was the eighth-best receiver in terms of yards after catch in 2013. As sure-handed as they come, the former Notre Dame star was also among the league leaders in catch rate. Tate fills some gigantic holes in the Lions’ passing game. He gives Stafford a reliable short-to-intermediate target that has the ability to get yards after the catch, and he also comes with a winning pedigree and experience in big-game situations. When evaluating Tate from a fantasy perspective, it’s important to remember that he is going from being a No. 1 receiver in run-heavy Seattle to a complementary piece in what should be a high-volume passing offense in Detroit. The wide receiver position is as deep as ever, and the fact remains that there are lots of potential mouths to feed, and only one football. Expect Tate’s numbers to be heavily influenced by the use of Ebron. If Ebron develops quickly and forces Lions coaches to make him a must in the weekly game play, Tate’s numbers could stagnate or drop slightly. If Ebron comes along slowly, or one of the running backs succumbs to injury, Tate could be called on regularly and be a real fantasy asset. At this point, consider Tate a WR4/5 and stash him on your bench hoping for more.
TE Eric Ebron
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
Say hello to the NFL’s newest version of the “move” tight end. At 6’4’’ and 250 pounds, Eric Ebron brings a level of athleticism and field-stretching ability this offense hasn’t seen in quite some time. Although he may have been drafted to play the Jimmy Graham role in Joe Lombardi’s offense, fantasy owners expecting Ebron to even sniff Jimmy Graham numbers will be gravely mistaken. Rookie tight ends tend to struggle even more than rookie wide receivers, and Ebron can no longer rely solely on his elite athleticism. In the Minnesota Vikings’ Harrison Smith, and fellow rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the Green Bay Packers, Ebron will face off against equally skilled cover safeties and, in some cases, linebackers. This passing offense still flows through Calvin Johnson, so a Jordan Reed line (49-499-3) is a good place to start as far as estimates go. Look for Ebron to be a TE2 early on in the year as he gets used to the NFL game, but because of his unique athletic skills and pass-friendly offense, expect a late-season breakout (à la Zack Ertz from the Eagles) that could make him a lower-tier TE1 option down the stretch.
TE Brandon Pettigrew
(2013 TE Rank—#31, 3.8 FPts/G)
The stone-handed, heavy-footed Pettigrew was brought back solely as a reliable blocker. Since catching 83 passes in 2011, Pettigrew has seen his targets and catches drop each of the last two years. With Golden Tate and rookie Eric Ebron in the fold, and an increased reliance on running back routes out of the backfield, expecting Pettigrew to improve on his No. 31 ranking in 2014 is pure insanity. Unless the Lions’ passing game is beset by injury, Pettigrew shouldn’t be anywhere near your roster.
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