Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
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: Mike Krueger — June 25, 2014 @ 11:44 pm
Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 6/26/14
- Joe Flacco (-2) – A slight bump down for Flacco who should continue to force feed the running game at the expense of throwing downfield.
- T.J. Yates (#57) – Yates checks into the bottom tier of the rankings after being traded to the Falcons. He’ll serve as Ryan’s backup.
- Lamar Miller (+13) – Miller will be in the drivers seat until Moreno (knee) returns during training camp.
- Knowshon Moreno (-10) – Moreno will miss 4 weeks due to knee surgery. He should be back early in camp but he’ll have a red injury flag by his name throughout the pre-season.
- Randall Cobb (+3) – Slight bump for Cobb. It’s possible the Pack could have two 1100-yd receivers this season.
- Torrey Smith (+3) – Bumped up the number of catches for Smith who should set a career high in Kubiak’s system.
- Steve Smith (-8) – The expense of the younger Smith’s bump.
- Jordan Matthews (+11) – Matthews is getting a lot of off-season hype but the addition of Sproles and two mouths to feed at TE doesn’t leave a lot of opportunities for the third receiver in this offense.
- Adrien Robinson (-7) – Isn’t making the most of his opportunity to be the Giants go-to tight end.
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
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.
By: Mike Krueger — @ 2:05 am
Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 6/19/14
Just a mild update as teams wrap up mini-camp and players head off to parts unknown for a few weeks.
- Ben Roethlisberger (+3) – Up-tempo offense used down the stretch last season expected to be used more in 2014.
- Derek Carr (#45) – Inserted into the rankings as he’s already passed McGloin for the #2 QB spot in Oakland.
- Marshawn Lynch (-5) – Slight bump down for Mr. Skittles. Not so much for his contract squabble, but on the expectation that Christine Michael will eat some of his carries.
- Christine Michael (+17) – See above. His upside is a classic case of why you don’t simply place rank numbers next to a group of players projected stats and call them “rankings”.
- Percy Harvin (+3) – Corrected a mistake in Seahawks passing projections. Harvin was missing a receiving TD.
- DeSean Jackson (-5) – Changed my thinking on the distribution between Garcon and DJax. Expect Djax to be more of decoy than he was last season, opening the field for Garcon and TE Reed.
- Reggie Wayne (+20) – I’m skeptical Wayne (ACL) will make enough of a recovery to be a WR2 this season however, head coach says he expects Wayne to be ready for training camp. We’ll see.
- Antonio Gates (-2) – Slight bump down for the ole’ timer. He’s keeping Green from being a TE1.
- Zach Miller (+3) – Miller was missing a receiving TD from my initial projections.
By: Sal Marcoccio — June 19, 2014 @ 1:08 pm
Tony Romo is expected to be 100% for the start of training camp.
QB Tony Romo
(2013 QB Rank—#10, 24.1 FPts/G)
Tony Romo underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc in December, but is expected to be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Head Coach Jason Garrett believes Romo is in the prime of his career, but considering the quarterback is now 34 years old, that statement is likely May/June “coach speak.” On the plus side, the Cowboys have hired Scott Linehan as their new passing-game coordinator, a move the veteran Romo is reported to be thrilled with. Under Linehan, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford averaged 4,885 passing yards over the last three seasons, and he never attempted fewer than 630 passes. Contrast that with Romo, who has only surpassed 550 attempts once in his career. Romo is perpetually underrated in fantasy circles and should prove to once again be a boon for owners who wait on drafting a QB. In four of his eight seasons as an NFL starter, he has topped 4,000 yards in passing, and he threw for 3,828 yards with 31 TDs in 15 games last season. If his attempts were to rise significantly under Linehan, Romo could put up a career year even at 34 years of age.
RB DeMarco Murray
(2013 RB Rank—#8, 14.8 FPts/G)
DeMarco Murray is coming off his best season as a professional, but still did not manage to play a full season—an issue that has plagued Murray throughout his three years in the NFL. Last year he did manage a career-high 14 games, and gained almost 1,500 total yards, while finding the end zone 10 times. He also caught 53 balls last season, a number that could increase in Scott Linehan’s offense. Linehan has claimed that he will lean on the running game in Dallas, but his past history speaks otherwise. Still, with recent improvements to the offensive line and a talent like Murray, the Cowboys should have a very effective running game and Murray could be poised to set career highs across the board. As always, health could be an issue for a running back who doesn’t always find himself able to avoid contact due to an upright and violent running style. However, at 6’0” and 220 pounds, and with impressive straight-line speed, Murray can dish out the punishment as well. An owner could do worse than picking Murray somewhere near the Round 1/Round 2 turn in drafts later this summer.
RB Lance Dunbar
(2013 RB Rank—#93, 3.0 FPts/G)
Lance Dunbar only managed to play in nine games last season, but he was impressive before a national television audience on Thanksgiving Day, rushing for 82 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game and missing the rest of the season due to injury. Dunbar has earned rave reviews from new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan this offseason, and beat reporters have touted him as a breakout player to watch in 2014. The 5’8”, 188 pound Dunbar should be an effective weapon in the passing game, especially when you consider that Linehan’s offense in Detroit allowed both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to thrive while running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. He’s a must-have handcuff for Murray owners due to Murray’s penchant for injuries, but should also have some fantasy value in his own right, especially in PPR leagues.
WR Dez Bryant
(2013 WR Rank—#5, 12.7 FPts/G)
Scott Linehan is used to working with star wide receivers, having helped guide Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson to great heights while with Minnesota and Detroit respectively. At times last season, it seemed as if Dallas wasn’t willing to force-feed its stud WR the way Linehan has shown he’s willing to do in past stops. In fact, Bryant had eight games last year where he didn’t see double-digit targets. This year Linehan plans to move Bryant around more, making it difficult for opposing teams to cover him, and he has never been afraid to have his quarterback utilize his best weapon, even when the receiver is covered. Combine that with a contract year for Bryant and it’s very reasonable for fantasy owners to expect Bryant’s best season to date in 2014. Bryant is one of the league’s most physically gifted WRs, with a combination of speed and strength not seen in most of his peers. He should be capable of taking over a game, and Linehan is likely to give him the opportunity to do so. Don’t be shocked if Bryant sits atop the WR rankings at the end of the season.
WR Terrance Williams
(2013 WR Rank—#40, 6.9 FPts/G)
Second-year wideout Terrance Williams will be thrust into a starting role in 2014, after a fairly successful rookie season that saw the former Baylor Bear grab 44 balls for 736 yards and 5 TDs. Williams spent some time in the starting lineup last season in place of the oft-injured Miles Austin, and the team saw enough potential in him to release Austin this offseason. Williams will have the benefit of not being the focus of opposing defenses, with Dez Bryant lined up across from him and tight end Jason Witten commanding targets, but of course the flip side of that is the two veterans will generally be Tony Romo’s preferred options almost every time he drops back and scans the field. Nevertheless, the 6’2”, 200 pound Williams flashed some big-play ability (despite sometimes showing questionable hands) and is a breakout candidate under the pass-happy offense of Scott Linehan. Williams will need to show consistency early in the season in order to gain Romo’s trust. If he’s able to do that, there should be enough targets to make him at worst a low-end WR3 for fantasy teams.
WR Cole Beasley
(2013 WR Rank—#94, 3.5 FPts/G)
Diminutive third-year wide receiver Cole Beasley entered the PPR radar midseason in 2013 with a couple of six-catch games, but finished the season with only 39 catches at less than 10 yards per reception, and 2 TDs. Receivers coach Derek Dooley has talked Beasley up this offseason and has said that he expects an expanded role for the former SMU receiver. Being a small (5’8”, 180 pound) white slot WR, Beasley naturally draws plenty of Wes Welker comparisons, but he’s not nearly as quick or strong as the underrated Welker. However, Beasley does run good sharp routes and is sure-handed, so he could carry some PPR value this year as a bye-week filler.
WR Dwayne Harris
(2013 WR Rank—#120, 2.3 FPts/G)
Thus far in his career, Dwayne Harris’ contributions have been mostly limited to his special teams play. He is one of the best return men in the league, but only has 26 receptions in his three-year career. He is competing with Cole Beasley to be the Cowboys’ WR3 this season, and if he wins that job he could have some fantasy value in their high-volume passing attack. He’s probably not worth a draft pick in leagues that don’t award kick return yardage, but could be someone to monitor should injuries strike players in the Dallas passing game. He has big-play potential but lacks the consistency to be a reliable difference maker for your fantasy team.
TE Jason Witten
(2013 TE Rank—#5, 8.3 FPts/G)
Jason Witten turned 32 years old in May, and while he looked as if he had lost a step last season, no player in the league is more trusted by his quarterback. Witten has been a top-six tight end in each of his last four seasons, and with Miles Austin out of the picture and the new offense expected to be even more pass-centric than ever, it would be unwise to bet against that streak continuing in 2014. While he’s never been an athletic specimen on the level of a Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, Witten has been every bit as productive, surpassing 1,000 yards in four NFL seasons. Surprisingly, Witten has never reached double-digit TDs in a season, and the eight he scored last year was the second-highest total of his career. While second-year TE Gavin Escobar’s role is expected to expand, it really should not come at Witten’s expense. Witten knows how to get open, presents a big target for Romo, and has sure hands, so even if he loses yet another step in 2014, his floor is still that of a fantasy starter at the position.
TE Gavin Escobar
(2013 TE Rank—#50, 2.8 FPts/G)
Gavin Escobar had very little production during his rookie season, but that is not uncommon at the tight end position. Reports indicate his role will be expanded in 2014 and he could end up on the fantasy radar. Blocking was an issue for Escobar last season, but Jason Witten has praised his fellow TE’s improvement in that area, and in Scott Linehan’s new offensive system, Escobar’s pass-catching skills are much more needed anyway. Linehan says he is excited to see what the young TE can do, and during the coach’s seasons in Detroit, second- and third-string tight ends like Tony Sheffler and Joseph Fauria were able to make contributions in the passing game behind starter Brandon Pettigrew.
By: Nick Caron — June 17, 2014 @ 11:01 am
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Top Chief: Jamaal Charles heads into 2014 as one of fantasy football’s top players.
QB Alex Smith
(2013 QB Rank—#16, 14.9 FPts/G)
Former No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith proved that the success he enjoyed during his final years in San Francisco was more than just a product of being on a great team, leading the Kansas City Chiefs to the best record in the league through the first half of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, he and the Chiefs were unable to hold off the eventual AFC champion Denver Broncos in the division, but fantasy owners were pleased at the production they got from their quarterback over the second half of the schedule. Despite the team struggling in the wins column and sitting its starters in Week 17, Smith was able to contribute a total of 17 touchdown passes from Week 11 through Week 16, and whereas previously in his career he had never thrown more than 20 touchdown passes for an entire season, he was able to finish 2013 with a total of 23. His 431 rushing yards were also sixth best among all quarterbacks, making him an underappreciated fantasy asset in the running game. With a more difficult schedule on the horizon in 2014, Kansas City is unlikely to replicate the kind of success it had in 2013, which could mean less wins for the team but perhaps more passing opportunities for Smith, particularly late in games. A reduction in efficiency should also be expected due to the Chiefs strength of schedule, but the potential for more total pass attempts could make Smith a high-end QB2 option with low-end QB1 upside.
RB Jamaal Charles
(2013 RB Rank—#1, 20.8 FPts/G)
Not since the days of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson have the Chiefs had a fantasy producer anywhere near the level of running back Jamaal Charles. Charles, who was a consensus round 1 pick in 2013, lived up to the hype and then some with a monstrous fantasy season that made him the top-scoring fantasy back in practically all formats. Although he finished third in rushing yards, his 693 receiving yards were nearly 100 yards better than the next best back (Danny Woodhead), and his 19 total touchdowns were five more than that of any other rusher. You will hear whispers about increased opportunities for backup Knile Davis, but Charles will likely shoulder another heavy load in 2014, which makes him one of a few candidates for the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football drafts this season. Of course, the high number of touches also makes Charles a candidate for injury, but given the lack of true “feature backs” remaining in the league, the potential reward far outweighs the risk of drafting Charles with your top draft pick this season.
RB Knile Davis
(2013 RB Rank—#53, 3.3 FPts/G)
The tremendous season Jamaal Charles had already made the backup running back position in Kansas City an afterthought, but a measly 3.45 YPC average made Knile Davis even more irrelevant in the Kansas City offense. Although he did vulture two touchdowns from Charles earlier in the year, Davis’ only real value in 2013 came in Week 17 when the Chiefs sat their offensive starters, leading to a 27-carry day. He made the most of that opportunity, at least from a fantasy perspective , by rushing for 81 yards and two scores. Davis could see more touches in 2014, but he will remain essentially a non-factor for fantasy purposes unless there is an unfortunate injury to Charles. Even then, Davis is not nearly the talent that Charles is and could still end up sharing carries, most likely with 2014 fourth-round draft pick De’Anthony Thomas. Davis is a handcuff, but not a particularly enticing one until he can prove that he is a more effective runner.
WR Dwayne Bowe
(2013 WR Rank—#47, 5.6 FPts/G)
A disastrous 2013 season for Dwayne Bowe owners is now in the rearview mirror, but those who took a chance on the formerly elite wideout will find it hard to forget the horrendous production they received. Bowe delivered just five touchdown receptions on the season despite having some of the best quarterback play the team has seen in years, and failed to surpass 70 yards in any single game. He led the team with 105 targets, but caught just 57 of those and appeared to be a victim of the age bug, as he seemed slower and perhaps even less motivated than in years past. However, in spite of his disappointing output a year ago, Bowe remains the clear top target in the Kansas City offense. Unfortunately, that also means the team hasn’t invested in other options at the position to help pull away the defense’s attention, which could translate to another frustrating season for Bowe owners. His days as a WR1 are likely over, but the veteran’s savvy still gives him WR2 upside with a WR3/4 price tag. For what it’s worth, Bowe has changed his diet and training routine and reported to the team in the best shape of his career.
WR Donnie Avery
(2013 WR Rank—#64, 4.1 FPts/G)
A few long passes throughout the course of the season made Donnie Avery’s numbers look at least serviceable, as he caught 40 balls for 596 yards on the season, but those stats alone do not tell the story of the 12 games of three or fewer fantasy points that Avery gave fantasy owners. Although he was very clearly the No. 2 option in an uninspiring group of Kansas City wideouts in 2013, his upside is very limited. He and A.J. Jenkins will enter the season in what will likely be an open competition for the spot across from Dwayne Bowe, but Avery doesn’t offer much in the way of fantasy value, especially given his tremendous inconsistency.
WR A.J. Jenkins
(2013 WR Rank—#131, 0.7 FPts/G)
A former first-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, A.J. Jenkins is now getting a second chance at an NFL career, this time with the Kansas City Chiefs. The team traded for him prior to the 2013 season, but to say they used him sparingly would be an understatement. Jenkins caught just five total passes through the first 16 games of the season before getting a bit more of an opportunity in Week 17 when the Chiefs rested their starters. In that game, Jenkins showed flashes of what made him a first-round NFL draft pick, catching three passes for 67 yards. He will need to mature both on and off the field before he is given an opportunity to start across from Dwayne Bowe, but his potential upside is certainly higher than that of Donnie Avery. Jenkins is not likely to be drafted in most fantasy leagues unless he wins the job outright. Even then, he would be a late-round flyer with a high likelihood of terrible fantasy production.
TE Anthony Fasano
(2013 TE Rank—#42, 2.1 FPts/G)
Anthony Fasano became the Chiefs’ primary tight end in 2013 after a preseason injury sidelined Tony Moeaki. Given the success that Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker had with Alex Smith back in San Francisco, fantasy owners likely expected better from Fasano than the 32 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns that they got. Surprisingly enough, Fasano wasn’t even the team’s most-targeted tight end in 2013, as Sean McGrath was targeted 40 times compared to Fasano’s 33. Nevertheless, Fasano remains in line to be the team’s top tight end in 2014, more likely due to his ability as a blocker than as a pass catcher. The opportunities for goal line catches are there, as usual, but there’s nothing to suggest that Fasano is suddenly going to emerge as a fantasy star in 2014.
TE Travis Kelce
(2013 TE Rank—#102, 0.0 FPts/G)
Travis Kelce, a third-round draft pick in 2013, was certainly somebody that Chiefs fans had high hopes for this past season, given the relative lack of firepower in the offense. However, an unfortunate knee injury ended up costing Kelce his entire season, derailing what could have been a year with plenty of opportunities for production as a pass catcher. Kelce was a dynamic tight end in his senior season of college at the University of Cincinnati, where he caught 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns. The chances of Kelce breaking out as an elite fantasy tight end are slim, but he is probably the most likely player in the offense to be fantasy relevant at the position, even though he is also the kind of player who could end up giving his owners practically nothing. Kelce won’t do much work in minicamp but should be active during training camp at the end of July.
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