Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Nick Caron — July 23, 2014 @ 11:12 pm
Kaepernick scored 19 or more fantasy points in seven of his final eight games.
QB Colin Kaepernick
(2013 QB Rank—#9, 15.8 FPts/G)
Following some serious hype coming into 2013, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick was a bit of a bust for fantasy purposes in his first full season as the team’s starting quarterback. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that he is still growing as a player and particularly as a passer, but perhaps the biggest problem was that he missed his top target Michael Crabtree for the majority of the season when Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon prior to the start of the regular season. Upon Crabtree’s return, the two seemed to have some chemistry, which is certainly a nice sign heading into 2014. With Crabtree back in the lineup, Kaepernick finished the season with 19 or more fantasy points in seven of his final eight games. He found more success with his running game, especially toward the end of the year and in the playoffs, which makes sense as that is the time for players to go all-out and put their bodies on the line. Don’t expect Vick-like rushing numbers, but there’s no reason to think that Kaepernick won’t still be in the top five when it comes to rushing yardage at the quarterback position. He’s currently being drafted very late, as the No. 11 fantasy quarterback, which gives him great upside with very little downside. It would be difficult for Kaepernick to not at least bring back an even return on his low-average draft position.
RB Frank Gore
(2013 RB Rank—#13, 10.4 FPts/G)
Running back Frank Gore has enjoyed a career full of tremendous consistency at a position with very little of that to offer. Gore is now a year past the 30-year-old mark that many believe to be the swan song for NFL running backs. He has still averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry in every season of his professional career. Although he saw his role reduced a bit in 2013 in terms of number of snaps, he still touched the ball more than 280 times for the third straight season. There is some concern that the 49ers backfield is becoming overcrowded with the likes of Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde, but Gore’s is the one mouth that you know will be fed. Gore’s realistic upside is probably the 1,200-plus yard, eight touchdowns that he has achieved in each of the past three seasons, but his downside is also not nearly as bad as many of the other backs who will be selected near him in drafts. If he can get even 250 touches, at just a measly 4.0 yards per touch, Gore would still crack 1,000 total yards and would almost certainly be in the position to take the vast majority of the team’s goal line carries.
RB Carlos Hyde
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
A dominant college running back with tremendous NFL upside, Carlos Hyde finds himself in an excellent position for the future … but make sure that you understand that we are talking about the future. Hyde should be drafted as a late-round flier who has the possibility of becoming a major contributor should Gore suffer an untimely injury. Unless that happens, though, Hyde will likely be limited to a 5-10 touch per game role, which of course puts a damper on his fantasy upside. If Hyde does somehow come out with the starting job, though, he could be an absolute beast in this offense. San Francisco has a top-level offensive line and Frank Gore is beginning to slow down toward the end of his career, but the expectations still need to be kept in check for this rookie tailback.
WR Michael Crabtree
(2013 WR Rank—#109, 2.0 FPts/G)
Not a lot could be expected after he missed the first 11 regular season games of the 2013 season. Still, Michael Crabtree stepped back onto the field and reminded all of us that he is still one of the most talented pass-catchers in the league. Crabtree caught only one touchdown pass in the regular season, but also had a 100-yard game and proved that, when healthy, he is Kaepernick’s favorite target in the passing game. Crabtree is currently being drafted as a high-end WR2 in most formats but could easily finish as a top-10 player at his position even if he only slightly improves on the per-game averages he had after he returned a season ago. If we go back even further to get a deeper look at the connection between Crabtree and Kaepernick, we will see that in seven starts with Kaepernick at quarterback back in 2012, Crabtree had 41 catches for 595 yards and five touchdowns. If he stayed on that pace for an entire season, he would easily finish as a top-five player at his position. Another often unnoticed point about Crabtree is that this is a contract year for the young pass-catcher. Expect him to go all-out in an effort to get a big money deal in 2015.
WR Anquan Boldin
(2013 WR Rank—#15, 9.6 FPts/G)
A trip across the country from Baltimore to San Francisco did great things for the fantasy numbers of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. He finished the 2013 season with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns, making him a top-15 fantasy wide receiver – the first time since 2008. Boldin benefited from Michael Crabtree’s injury, which subsequently led to him being the top wide receiver on the roster. Boldin even continued to perform once Crabtree returned, averaging 91 yards per game with two touchdowns in the final five games of the season with Crabtree in the lineup. While his skills probably didn’t deteriorate over the offseason, Boldin may no longer hold a significant role heading into 2014 with Crabtree back in full health and the addition of Steve Johnson. Boldin is currently going off the board as a WR3 or high-end WR4 which gives him a nice amount of upside if he can even come close to replicating his 2013 production. He currently has the upper-leg on the starting wideout spot opposite Crabtree to begin the year.
WR Steve Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—#56, 4.6 FPts/G)
Steve Johnson shot out of the gate in 2013 as a member of the Bills with an impressive 17 catches for 236 yards and a pair of scores in his first three games. He looked absolutely tremendous with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and things were looking up. Unfortunately, Johnson suffered a string of nagging injuries and so did Manuel, which led to disappointment after disappointment from that point on. In the final 13 weeks of the regular season, Johnson caught just 35 passes for 361 yards and one touchdown. As it turned out, 2013 was essentially a lost season for Johnson and should really be considered that by fantasy owners. Instead, looking at Johnson’s previous three seasons were much more in line with what he really is. He played in every game from 2010 through 2012 and compiled over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons, including making 23 total touchdown receptions over that stretch. Now in San Francisco, Johnson will also catch passes from the best quarterback he has ever played with. This sounds great on the surface, but the problems arise when we consider that Johnson will now have to compete with a quality veteran in Anquan Boldin for playing time in an offense that has no hesitation about running the ball 20 times per game. Johnson is a truly unknown commodity in this offense but an average draft pick at wide receiver makes him a very low-risk option. If the 49ers are going to give Kaepernick the reins of the offense, they could use Johnson as a decent bye week fill-in with the potential to be a startable receiver if everything goes well.
TE Vernon Davis
(2013 TE Rank—#2, 9.8 FPts/G)
It was another tremendous fantasy season for tight end Vernon Davis in 2013 as the freakish talent destroyed most expectations, finishing as the No. 2 fantasy tight end, only behind Jimmy Graham. Davis’ 850 yards were accompanied by 13 touchdown receptions, the second time in his career that he has reached that number. Those who believed that Davis would see a massive drop in production with Kaepernick behind center as opposed to Alex Smith, who has practically made a career of throwing the ball underneath coverage, could not have been more wrong. Davis’ end zone numbers totals cannot be oversold. Davis caught 62 percent of Kaepernick’s touchdown passes – a tremendous number for a player at any position, let alone tight end. Although he disappointed fantasy owners in 2012 when he failed to reach 600 yards and scored only five touchdowns, Davis has been a consistently elite fantasy option at the tight end position for the past five seasons. During that span, he has averaged nearly nine touchdowns and over 800 yards per season. With a healthy Michael Crabtree and the addition of Steve Johnson, Davis may not get as many looks as he did in 2013, but his tremendous ability in the red zone keeps him in the top tier of fantasy tight ends coming into the season. He is one of the few tight ends who is capable of putting up low-end WR1 numbers and thus should not be overlooked on draft day.
By: Jake Gordon — July 21, 2014 @ 5:07 pm
QB Jake Locker
(2013 QB Rank—#37, 17.5 FPts/G)
Since he was drafted as the No. 8 overall pick in 2011, Jake Locker has yet to live up to expectations in the fantasy game or real life. He is slated to begin the 2014 season as the starting quarterback for the third straight year despite not having his option picked up by the team. How is that for confidence? If Locker hopes to get a shiny new deal, first he will have to learn how to stay on the field. Over the past two years he has missed nearly half of the Titans’ games (14 of 32) with ailments to his hip, foot and shoulder. So far this offseason Locker has shown that he is mostly over the Lisfranc injury that sidelined him last season. He participated in mini camp last month and is grasping the playbook under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Tennessee has also made an attempt to bolster the offensive line by signing tackle Micheal Oher and drafting Tyler Lewan. Locker should have a good-sized leash as Tennessee opted to not bring in a high-priced veteran to challenge for the starting role. Instead, the team chose to add a career backup in Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst has knowledge of the system having served as Phillip Rivers’ understudy last year in San Diego and if everything falls into place he could make a Luke McCown-like splash midseason. If Locker is indeed healthy and making good reads in this offense he would still only be an average reserve for fantasy purposes. Should he falter or suffer another injury, the Titans would turn to Whitehurst until rookie Zach Mettenberger is ready. Mettenberger is reportedly doing well in his recovery from an ACL injury that caused him to slide to the sixth round. If he can impress in his first pro season, he would likely be in the mix to start as soon as next year, assuming Locker is not brought back on a new deal.
RB Bishop Sankey
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
The Titans made Bishop Sankey the first running back chosen in the 2014 draft and it is clear that they feel he has the ability to replace Chris Johnson. They might not elevate him to the top of the depth chart at the outset of training camp because of his status as a rookie, but he should be their number one guy by Week One of the regular season. Part of this is due to the lack of quality competition to handle anything close to a full workload of carries. Shonn Greene continues to deal with knee problems and has seen his role reduced. Jackie Battle provides depth and could be moved to fullback while other players like Dexter McCluster are complementary pieces within the offense. Meanwhile Sankey has the skills to develop into a very good three-down running back within a balanced offense geared to move the chains. His solid hands will also make him a nice safety valve for Jake Locker and PPR owners. Whether Sankey can become the next stalwart rookie fantasy back will depend on his durability and ability to adjust to the pro game as a runner and blocker. He has shown that he can handle a larger workload as a two-year starter for Washington yet the possibility of hitting a “rookie wall” remains. Potential Sankey investors will want to follow his preseason progress very closely to see whether the same exceptional vision that he displayed in college will not be negated by the quicker NFL defenses.
RB Shonn Greene
(2013 RB Rank—#56, 5.2 FPts/G)
Shonn Greene saw his fantasy stock plunge when he was employed as the short yardage specialist behind Chris Johnson last year. The net results were a career-low 77 rushing attempts and off-season knee surgery that kept him out of OTAs and mini camp. The addition of Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster combined with the presence of Jackie Battle mean Greene’s fantasy upside is likely to remain limited. If Greene is able to use training camp to work his way back to full health, he should be the first choice near the goal line. Greene’s conversion rate is decent; however, opportunities to increase his volume of work are not nearly as rewarding as other backfield vultures. As a touchdown-or-bust player with significant health risk on a team that is expected to be in the lower half of the league in offensive output, Greene is a risky investment for the 2104 fantasy campaign.
Kendall Wright will need to increase his TD total to be considered a true WR1.
WR Kendall Wright
(2013 WR Rank—#31, 7.5 FPts/G)
The Titans invested a first-round pick in Kendall Wright two years ago and they are already seeing dividends. In the 2013 season, Wright notched his first 1,000-yard season and ended up just six catches short of the century mark. This year, fantasy owners will not want to sleep on Wright. A player who will be labeled short on touchdown potential on a run-first team, Wright stands to make the most gains in the new offensive system considering the passing game ranked 20th or worse in passing yards and touchdowns. More efficiency should equate to more overall production for the top targets. Furthermore, the team did well in using the short yardage passing game. Those attributes not only suit Wright’s game extremely well, but also are the backbone for success in any West Coast playbook. Wright spent part of the offseason working with Robert Griffin III in preparation of taking his game to an even higher level for 2014. One of only a few receivers with a realistic shot at 100 receptions; Wright is only a few touchdown receptions away from being a solid WR2 in PPR leagues. In every other format, Wright becomes an attractive investment in the middle rounds as one of the better WR3 upside plays.
WR Nate Washington
(2013 WR Rank—#36, 6.9 FPts/G)
Since Derrick Mason’s departure following the 2004 season, five different players have led the team in receiving yards. Nate Washington led the team twice, most recently two years ago with a whopping 746 yards. While Kendall Wright passed him on the depth chart, Washington should remain a starter as he prepares for his ninth season in the league. As the offense evolves around younger players, a decline is expected to keep the veteran’s fantasy value to that of a bye week replacement option. Should quarterback Jake Locker find his way in 2014, Washington would top out as a WR4 or WR5 depending on the number of teams in your league
WR Dexter McCluster
(2013 WR Rank—#68, 4.2 FPts/G)
Could this be the year when Dexter McCluster finally gets enough touches to be a consistent threat on offense as well as special teams? As offenses continue to evolve in today’s NFL so too does the role of the scatback. The elusive McCluster has never been able to earn both carries and targets during a single season but that might change in Tennessee. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt successfully found a way to maximize Danny Woodhead’s skills as both a runner and receiver to yield 193 combined targets and rushing attempts last season. If McCluster were put into a similar role, he would have flex consideration most weeks. Having witnessed a young Chris Johnson run past defenses in the past, Tennessee is not afraid to gamble by putting the ball in the hands of speedy playmakers.
WR Justin Hunter
(2013 WR Rank—#73, 4.6 FPts/G)
Justin Hunter may have the highest fantasy ceiling of any Titans receiver this year and fantasy owners would be wise to follow his development during the preseason. After being a non-factor for most of the season, Hunter posted two impressive performances during a late four-game road trip in 2013. In both games, he notched over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. Hunter has always had the potential to become a big time threat; however, the presence of Kenny Britt, a few dropped passes and the lack of consistent play at the quarterback position did not help Hunter reach his potential. Onto his second season, fantasy owners will find Britt is no longer in Nashville, Jake Locker is healthy (at least at the moment) and Hunter has added a few more pounds to his 6’4” frame. If he can show consistency in training camp and the preseason, he will likely ascend the depth chart and exceed his draft day value.
TE Delanie Walker
(2013 TE Rank—#12, 6.2 FPts/G)
No longer playing second fiddle to Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker enjoyed his best season to date with the Titans in 2013. In 15 games as Tennessee’s starter, Walker had more targets, receptions and yards than he did in his previous two seasons combined as a member of the 49ers. He became a larger part of the offense as the season went along, receiving seven or more targets in five of the team’s final eight games. Under the Ken Whisenhunt’s play calling last year, an aging Antonio Gates surpassed 100 targets in route to a team-leading 77 receptions. While Walker is not Gates and Locker is not Rivers, building on last year’s success isn’t out of the question.
By: Sal Marcoccio — July 19, 2014 @ 3:48 pm
A clean bill of health, new weapons – all signs point to a bounce back season for RGIII.
QB Robert Griffin III
(2013 QB Rank—#19, 21.0 FPts/G)
The conventional wisdom says Robert Griffin III rushed back too quickly from his torn ACL injury, which led to a decline in his production from his rookie season. The word out of OTAs is that Griffin has flashed his dynamic 2012 form and looked “extremely explosive.” In 2012, Griffin threw for 3,200 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions while also rushing for 826 yards with another seven touchdowns. In 2013, his rushing yards were nearly cut in half and he failed to score a rushing touchdown, while also regressing as a passer. Griffin spent the offseason working on his mechanics with quarterback instructor Terry Shea. Mike and Kyle Shanahan are no longer in Washington, and Robert Griffin III will now work with offensive-minded head coach Jay Gruden and new offensive coordinator Sean McVay. In addition, the team brought in more dynamic weapons for their young quarterback, signing former Eagle DeSean Jackson and former Cardinal Andre Roberts in free agency. All signs are pointing to a great fantasy football season from RGIII and the fickle masses just may forget how valuable of a weapon he was in 2012 after his disappointing 2013. Griffin is still one of the most dynamic runners in the league and Gruden has stated that while he may not use the read option often, he won’t necessarily ask Griffin not to run the ball when the opportunity arises. Any potential drop off in Griffin’s rushing production should be offset by an uptick in his passing statistics. Combine Griffin’s offseason work and health, Gruden’s offensive mind and the influx of talent in the passing game, and it’s hard to imagine Washington’s passing offense not taking a leap forward in 2014.
RB Alfred Morris
(2013 RB Rank—#14, 11.1 FPts/G)
Predictions for Alfred Morris’ 2014 fantasy value will likely be the most volatile of any running back in the league. There’s a mostly universal agreement that in PPR leagues his value is hurt by his lack of usage in the passing game – after all Morris has only caught 20 passes in two seasons. It’s in standard leagues where the opinions diverge greatly. Morris was the prototypical Mike Shanahan back. He did come out of nowhere to make an impact, but more importantly, his one-cut-and-go running style was tailor-made for the zone-blocking scheme. His doubters will argue that losing Shanahan is not a good thing for a “Shanahan product” and his supporters will point to his two-year track record of production. To complicate matters further, new head coach Jay Gruden is known to favor the passing game, but Morris doesn’t excel as a pass catcher. Furthermore, the pass-heavy offense would result in a drop in carries for Morris, potentially further reducing his value. While early reports indicate that Morris will still be a major factor in the Washington offense, it should be noted that Morris already saw a significant drop in his workload from his rookie to sophomore season, which naturally lowered his production. Morris went from 335 carries in 2012 to 276 carries in 2013. It should be disconcerting to potential Morris owners that Gruden has already stated to the press that he does not see Morris as a player who possesses natural hands. Keep in mind this is the time when most coaches throw around praise for their players. Morris could be a risky pick in all formats.
RB Roy Helu
(2013 RB Rank—#50, 4.8 FPts/G)
Former Nebraska standout Roy Helu could stand to receive a major value boost in the team’s transition from Mike Shanahan to Jay Gruden. During his two healthy seasons in Washington, Helu caught 49 balls and 31 balls, respectively, and could see his role increased if the team transitions to a more pass-centric offense. Helu is expected to hold onto his role as a third down back, but could face a challenge from second-year player Chris Thompson if he stays healthy. Helu was the favorite to take over the feature back role in Washington heading into his second NFL season, but injuries opened the door for Alfred Morris to take the job and run with it. Gruden’s offense in Cincinnati last season was very effective while featuring a committee approach with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Washington backfield using that model. Helu is likely not talented enough to earn as big a share in the committee as Bernard had, but in an offense expected to be much improved, Helu makes an intriguing mid- to late-round pick in PPR leagues.
WR Pierre Garcon
(2013 WR Rank—#13, 10.4 FPts/G)
Pierre Garcon seems to be perpetually underrated in fantasy football circles. When he was signed by Washington, many thought that any success he had in Indianapolis would be a direct result of Peyton Manning. An injury-plagued first season in the nation’s capital helped further the belief that he lacked true talent, even though he excelled when he was healthy. In 2013, however, Garcon put up a 113-1,346-5 stat line and the narrative changed, given his league-leading 182 targets that led to his success. Garcon’s targets are very likely to drop with DeSean Jackson now in the mix; however, don’t forget about the chemistry that Garcon has with Robert Griffin. Garcon should also be more efficient on his targets, since he will no longer constantly see bracket coverage and double teams with more dangerous options than Leonard Hankerson and Santana Moss in the Washington passing attack. He should find more open areas in the defense and while his receptions may drop his efficiency, his touchdowns should increase.
WR DeSean Jackson
(2013 WR Rank—#10, 11.7 FPts/G)
Coming off a career year in 2013 when he caught 82 balls for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns, DeSean Jackson is a candidate to be over-drafted in fantasy drafts this summer. Playing in Chip Kelly’s complex and up-tempo passing game, Jackson saw his numbers rise dramatically across the board last year in Philadelphia. It should be noted that prior to last season, Jackson averaged only 55 receptions in five years. This year’s drafters should likely use the midpoint of that average and his 82 receptions last season as a baseline for projecting reception totals for Jackson. He is still one of the more dynamic players in the league with the ball in his hands and the Washington offense is expected to be pass heavy, so he’s still a solid bet for WR2 production. Don’t draft him based on last year’s top-10 finish, though, or you could be very disappointed at year’s end.
WR Andre Roberts
(2013 WR Rank—#74, 3.7 FPts/G)
Many dynasty owners were holding the talented Andre Roberts hoping he would finally escape from the desert and out of the shadows of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. They had to be pleased when Roberts signed with Washington as presumably the No. 2 receiver with Robert Griffin III. A few weeks later DeSean Jackson was acquired much to the chagrin of those same owners and to Roberts himself, as he would once again act as a WR3 on his team. He is now said to be a candidate to return kicks for Washington and will play in the slot in three wide receiver sets. In deeper leagues, Roberts can still hold some value to cover bye weeks in what is expected to be a pass-heavy offense. In his best season of 2012, he managed a stat line of 64-759-5 and that is likely his ceiling in Washington this season barring an injury to Garcon or Jackson.
TE Jordan Reed
(2013 TE Rank—#22, 7.7 FPts/G)
On a points per game basis Jordan Reed was a fantasy TE1 in 2013, despite being a rookie who got off to a slow start. He missed the last six games of the season, though, after he suffered a major concussion, his fourth including his college years. The threat of a reoccurrence is the only dark cloud hanging over Reed this season and beyond. In what may seem to be classic offseason hyperbole, Robert Griffin III called him “one of the most talented tight ends in the league.” Looking at his numbers when healthy, that may not be such an outlandish statement after all. Sean McVey as the offensive coordinator could help Reed even more, since he is Reed’s former position coach. Already, Reed is expected to be a big part of the offense. He’s been favorably compared to fellow Florida alumnus Aaron Hernandez in physicality and playing style, and his rookie season production helps to further make that comparison apt. Projecting the eight full games he played in 2013 out to a full season, Reed would have finished with an 88-974-6 stat-line. While it may be a little too optimistic to project those numbers for his 2014 season, a top-five finish is well within his reach if he stays healthy.
By: Mike Krueger — July 17, 2014 @ 1:05 am
Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 7/17/14
- Giovani Bernard (+2) – Slight adjustment to Gio’s rushing totals.
- Bishop Sankey (N/A) – No change to Sankey but I am considering bumping his projections down based off various reports. I’ll wait until camp then reconsider.
- Randall Cobb (+2) – No projection move but a slight ranking bump for Cobb. Feel more confident in him over Vincent Jackson.
- Malcom Floyd (+15) – Floyd appears to be fully recovered from his neck injury. Next hurdle will be training camp.
- David Ausberry (+17) – Ausberry (shoulder) will likely be the starting tight end as long as there are no setbacks during camp.
- Nick Kasa (dropped) – No reason to have three Raiders’ tight ends in the rankings.
By: Jake Gordon — July 16, 2014 @ 1:52 pm
Weapons returning from injury could help Luck be a relative bargain on draft day.
QB Andrew Luck
(2013 QB Rank—#7, 21.6 FPts/G)
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft has two productive fantasy seasons under his belt. Many prognosticators have placed him in the second tier of signal callers with improvements on the offensive side of the ball and a healthier stable of pass-catchers. Luck grew as a passer by cutting his interception total in half while increasing his completion percentage despite the fact injuries depleted the team’s receiving options for most of the year. He has showed durability in starting every game for the Colts since joining the league while also being a smart and effective runner when forced out of the pocket.
To help their franchise quarterback take the next step, the Colts improved their depth at the WR position by adding Hakeem Nicks through free agency and selecting Donte Moncrief through the draft. Additionally, injured TE Dwayne Allen’s return to the starting lineup will give OC Pep Hamilton even more flexibility along the offensive front. For these reasons, Luck is poised for his best season yet and could be a relative bargain on draft day for bullish fantasy owners who wish to stay ahead of the curve.
RB Trent Richardson
(2013 RB Rank—#34, 7.0 FPts/G)
Raise your hand if you got burned by Trent Richardson last year. Like you, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson offered up a first-round draft pick for a player who stumbled and bumbled his way to a miniscule 3.0 yards per carry. His rookie season provides hope of a rebound, but how realistic are his chances when he looked so bad running the ball and is now coming off a shoulder surgery too? The risk adverse will pass on T-Rich at every turn this year but fantasy owners could be wrong on a guy who looked like one of the few three down running backs only two years ago. He was limited in OTAs following shoulder surgery that saw him gain weight, yet should be cleared for more contact as the preseason progresses.
When Richardson is running well, he is physical and willing to take on defenders. He has been getting reps with the first team and should see the bulk of the workload ahead of Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. Without seeing him in full contact fantasy owners should still be cautious in drafting him on upside alone. Few running backs being taken outside the top 50 overall have as much upside with touches and touchdown potential than the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, though.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
(2013 RB Rank—#73, 11.6 FPts/G)
Indianapolis brought in Ahmad Bradshaw last season to add to the competition at the running back position and push Donald Brown. Three games into the 2013 season and Bradshaw was paying dividends for fantasy owners reaching pay dirt twice. On par with his recent past, injuries prevented him from playing in 16 games for the third straight season. He has had foot issues for years but can still be effective with limited carries, which is why the team re-signed him to a one-year pact for the 2014 season. Bradshaw will give the Colts a decent option to spell Trent Richardson and will handle the primary backup duties until Vick Ballard proves he is healthy enough to handle an expended role. Of course that role greatly minimizes his fantasy value this season but as long as he remains second on the depth chart he has value as a handcuff to Richardson investors.
RB Vick Ballard
(2013 RB Rank—#116, 5.8 FPts/G)
Vick Ballard had a promising rookie campaign but an ACL tear cost him most of 2013. He’ll start the year behind Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw as he continues to work his way back from injury. By the time mid-season rolls around he could be in the mix for playing time, especially if the running game is as stagnant as it was last season. In redraft and dynasty leagues alike, Ballard remains a wait-and-see player who needs others to falter to become fantasy relevant.
WR T.Y. Hilton
(2013 WR Rank—#19, 8.7 FPts/G)
T.Y. Hilton saw his target total grow by more than 50 percent in 2013 and there is room for improvement considering Darrius Heyward-Bey opened the season as the starter for almost two months. Part of Hilton’s success can be attributed to the fact that he is able to play in the slot and work underneath while also using his speed to fly past defenders from the outside. A minor foot injury during OTAs does not appear to have slowed him down heading into training camp. As a Swiss army knife for Andrew Luck, Hilton figures to be the most productive fantasy wideout on the Colts in 2014. He will ultimately lose some targets to a healthy Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks, but will also benefit from their presence as defenses are forced to cover the entire field. That being said he shouldn’t be projected as a surefire WR1 for fantasy purposes. Instead, he becomes a great WR3 in shallow leagues while being a steady WR2 in deeper formats.
WR Reggie Wayne
(2013 RB Rank—#69, 9.0 FPts/G)
Just when Reggie Wayne started to prove he still had something left in the tank in 2012, he showed why aging receivers carry an inherent risk by missing all but seven games after sustaining a torn ACL in 2013. He was held out of OTAs but should be ready to go once training camp opens. As long as he is healthy he will continue to be a common target for Andrew Luck but his days of being a consistent fantasy starter are over. Part of this can be attributed to a continued decline in red zone opportunities. Wayne hasn’t scored more than six touchdowns since 2009 and the addition of Hakeem Nicks isn’t going to help. Furthermore, a healthy Dwayne Allen should allow the Colts’ two TE sets be more successful. With less looks and limited red zone upside, Wayne’s fantasy value is and should be at its lowest point in years.
WR Hakeem Nicks
(2013 WR Rank—#51, 6.0 FPts/G)
Indianapolis signed Hakeem Nicks to a one-year deal in March with hopes that his disappointing 2013 season and hunger to land a larger payday will help elevate the passing game. Nicks would seem to have the inside track to start opposite Reggie Wayne depending on where T.Y. Hilton lines up, but Wayne turns 36 in November and only played in seven games last season. Nicks is 10 years younger and has shown the ability to be a dynamic threat both down the field and in the red zone when healthy. As Andrew Luck continues to mature and Hilton garners more attention from opposing defenses Nicks has enough upside to be worth a look after the top 50 wideouts are taken on draft day.
If injuries continue to hamper Nicks’ career, the Colts will turn to its young tandem of Da’Rick Rogers and Donte Moncrief. Rogers enters his second year trying to build off a late-season surge that saw him become more productive than Darrius Heyward-Bey. Indy had an eye toward the future when selecting Moncrief in the third round this year. His size and athleticism should give him a chance to be fantasy relevant in the future but he is not likely to see the field much in 2014.
TE Coby Fleener
(2013 TE Rank—#15, 5.3 FPts/G)
Coby Fleener had a prime opportunity to elevate his fantasy game in 2013 after a hip injury to Dwayne Allen in team’s opening game made him Indianapolis’ best option at the position. As a result, Fleener finished the season as the team’s second-best player in the passing game. These ranks are a bit deceiving, however, considering the injuries and changes on offense throughout the year. Although Fleener was able to increase his totals across the board, they barely surpassed Dwayne Allen’s 2012 output and there are more mouths to feed in 2014. An opportunity like last season could repeat itself; if not, Fleener will waiver wire fodder in most fantasy leagues.
TE Dwayne Allen
(2013 TE Rank—#70, 8.0 FPts/G)
A promising rookie campaign in 2012 allowed Dwayne Allen to emerge as the team’s most productive fantasy tight end. Coming into last year, Allen was expected to be a big part of Andrew Luck’s success. That script was rewritten, however, after Allen sustained a hip injury in Indianapolis’ season opener. Allen was healthy enough to get back on the field for the team’s mini camps and should make a full recovery by the time the 2014 season kicks off. Consequently, the hype surrounding Allen’s use in the offense is building and fantasy owners should keep a keen eye on his progress during training camp. Could Allen find himself in a situation like Denver’s Julius Thomas a season ago and break free from an expected glut on the team’s depth chart to become a dynamic threat in high scoring offense? While it is unlikely that he’ll be drafted among the top 10 at the position in fantasy drafts, it may be worth a late-round pick to find out.
By: Colby Cavaliere — July 14, 2014 @ 10:53 pm
WR Cordarrelle Patterson is the Vikings player of intrigue for fantasy owners.
QB Matt Cassel
(2013 QB Rank–33, 16.2 FPts/G)
There is perhaps no more schizophrenic position in the NFL than quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Since 2000, the Vikings have had a whopping 15 different players make a start at quarterback. 2013 was no different, as three players, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman took rides on the quarterback merry-go-round. The result? An ugly 6-10 record, an 18-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a yet another attempt at a long-term answer by drafting Teddy Bridgewater late in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Because there is a great chance that more than one quarterback will be under center again in 2014, until one guy emerges by playing well and winning, this is a fantasy situation to avoid. But watch closely, as there are a few reasons why the quarterback position in Minnesota won’t be a total black hole and may actually provide some solid QB2 possibilities.
With the re-signing of Cassel and the drafting of Bridgewater, the Vikings have seemed to move on from their last first-round quarterback, Ponder. Despite starting 16 games in 2012 and “leading” his team to the playoffs, Ponder has neither shown the physical tools or technical savvy to be anything more than a decent back-up. With Ponder relegated to No. 3 duties or perhaps off the team altogether by the start the season, put your focus on Cassel and Bridgewater. The skill position talent in running back Adrian Peterson and pass catchers Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph, combined with the offensive coaching philosophy and pedigree of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, are enough to make Cassel and Bridgewater intriguing options. Based on offseason work, it seems Cassel will open the season as the starter. Cassel has experience and the support of his coaches and teammates and will have a legitimate chance to hold off Bridgewater if he plays well. Unfortunately for him, that’s a giant-sized IF. New lava-tempered head coach Mike Zimmer will look to make his mark and won’t drag his feet before making a change at the position like former Head Coach Lesile Frasier was guilty of doing. Bridgewater went from darling to dud in the offseason, falling all the way to the end of the first round in the draft. He has the leadership and decision-making to be successful, but the biggest knocks on Bridgewater were physical; he doesn’t offer much more than Cassel. Also, the Vikings will play all home games outside for the next two years, further limiting any late-season upside from Bridgewater in 2014. Only super desperate 12-team leagues will have to consider a Vikings quarterback this season, but in deeper leagues some QB2 value could be unearthed from this icy Minnesota wasteland.
RB Adrian Peterson
(2013 RB Rank–6, 15.0 FPts/G)
Statistically speaking, 2013 was the second-worst year in Adrian Peterson’s brilliant 7-year career. Coming off a mind-blowing 2,000-plus yard season in 2012, some slide was expected going into 2013. The falloff may have been steeper than some fantasy owners expected, as injuries bothered Peterson for a good part of the year, causing him to miss two starts and undergo offseason groin surgery. Hobbled, and again the only major threat on offense, he still managed to rip off 1,266 yards and 11 total touchdowns. Despite the mileage on his tires, Peterson still remains one of the few elite backs in the league capable of winning fantasy games by himself, even if he isn’t the automatic first running back taken. One of the few dents in his armor (to go along with his ball security issues – 31 career fumbles) is his role in the passing game. He had a career-high 43 catches for 436 yards in 2009 but has come nowhere near those numbers in two of the last three seasons. His underwhelming 5.5 yards-per-catch has put him well behind his elite peers. That may change drastically in 2014. With creative play-caller Norv Tuner now in the fold and back-up Toby Gerhart off to Jacksonville, expect Peterson to flirt with 40-plus catches once again as a true 3-down workhorse. With improved quarterback play and the continued development of second-year wide-out Cordarrelle Paterson, the offense should be more fluid and consistent, giving Peterson the running lanes to make big plays as a runner and receiver.
One final thing to consider if you have the enviable task of picking the first running back off the board; Peterson is coming off his third straight offseason surgery (ACL, sports hernia, groin). While he has proven to defy the physical limitations of mere mortals, father time still remains undefeated. Peterson is 29, with over 2,000 career carries, many of which have been of the minor car accident variety. The demise of Peterson is going to be swift and sudden, and it may be sooner rather than later. For owners who like to protect their investments with handcuffs, Peterson really doesn’t have one. Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, and to a lesser extent LeSean McCoy, all have back-ups to target as potentially valuable handcuffs. With Gerhart gone, only a raw third-round rookie and fringe roster runner back up Peterson.
RB Matt Asiata
(2013 RB Rank–70, 18.0 FPts/G)
Matt Asiata’s three-touchdown Week 15 and 100-yard effort in Week 17 undoubtedly saved some fantasy seasons. While he was heroic in Peterson’s two-game absence and he takes the back-up reins from departed Toby Gerhart, Asiata lacks the physical and instinctive tools necessary to be a long-term handcuff for Peterson. The full-back/running back hybrid gets what’s blocked and is effective on the goal line, but fantasy owners would be hard-pressed to count on Asiata for more than a temporary fill-in.
RB Jerick McKinnon
(2013 RB Rank–NA)
Jerick McKinnon, the raw third-round pick from Georgia Southern makes up for what he lacks in experience at the running back position with eye-popping strength, speed and quickness. The 5’8’’ running back played defensive back, option quarterback and tailback during his time in college and is still adjusting to the position he’s been running at so far this offseason. Expect McKinnon to be sprinkled in from time to time to give Peterson a break early in the year, but baring serious injury, he may not have a defined role this season. His physical gifts give him high upside, and if he continues to work on and improve in the nuances of pass protection and pro running schemes, McKinnon could surpass Asiata for the top back-up spot and take the majority of carries in any potential committee situation.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
(2013 WR Rank–38, 6.5 FPts/G)
Cordarrelle Patterson might be poised to take the biggest leap of any receiver in 2014. Oozing with talent and upside, he was electric every time he touched the ball, whether it was through the air, on the ground or in the return game (scoring 9 times). After being virtually ignored on offense for the first 10 weeks, Patterson emerged in Weeks 11-17, racking up 27 catches and 10 rushing attempts. He still suffered from inconsistency issues down the stretch, going over 35 yards receiving only once in the final 5 games. Hamstrung with a limited route tree , the Vikings gave Patterson 12 rushing attempts ( second-best among all wide receivers) to go along with numerous bubble screens. This late-season creativity hints at what’s to come this year.
The Vikings’ quarterback situation can only get better, and Norv Turner has a long history of developing big-play wide receivers. Look for Patterson to get involved in the offense through screens, quick hitches and slants, and deep sideline routes. The emphasis on getting him the ball means he could approach 80 catches and nearly double-digit touchdown totals (he led the team in red zone targets last season). Be wary though, as he will be limited by mediocre quarterback play and inexperience. Patterson is a hot name this offseason, so don’t be tempted to overdraft him. He’s going to suffer from streaky, inconsistent play but could ultimately put up WR2 numbers when it’s all said and done.
WR Greg Jennings
(2013 WR Rank–39, 7.0 FPts/G)
Coming in right behind his more-hyped teammate in the 2013 rankings was former Packer Greg Jennings. The savvy 8-year veteran put up a solid 68-804-4 line for a Vikings team that seemed to be running in sand at times in 2013. Jennings should benefit from the increased attention teammate Cordarrelle Patterson should receive and having Matt Cassel behind center. Jennings was more effective under the improved accuracy of Cassel, posting nearly half his season totals in the quarterback’s six starts. So while he was a borderline WR3 at times last season, what value can Jennings bring to fantasy owners in 2014? While the emergence of Patterson led to some of Jennings’ best games late last season, it also means Jennings could take a back seat to Patterson in the weekly game plan. Throw in the healthy return of Kyle Rudolph, and Jennings could find himself fighting for catches in what should be a run-heavy offense. Last year’s Cleveland Browns, who feature a similar scheme and pass catchers, only got 41 catches from their third option (Greg Little). Jennings is certainly better than that other Greg, but don’t expect his numbers to differ much from 2013. His situation should limit him to a bench-warming WR4/5 status.
TE Kyle Rudolph
(2013 TE Rank–36, 6.2 FPts/G)
Where Norv Turner goes, the fantasy owner looking for a break-out tight end follows. From Jay Novacek in the‘90s, Antonio Gates in ‘00s and Jordan Cameron last year, Turner has quite a knack for featuring tight ends in his offensive system. Will Kyle Rudolph be the next in line to make the leap? Prior to his 2013 mid-season broken foot, Rudolph was on pace for career highs in receptions and yardage, totals that would have put him in the low-end TE1 conversation. In a fantasy position that lacks consistency outside the top tier, Rudolph has the physical traits and work ethic to massively improve on his 2013 ranking. While not as athletic as some former Turner tight ends, Rudolph is a monster in the red zone, and reports out of offseason workouts have him working extensively on his route running and discipline. With Turner calling plays, the threat of Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and Cordarelle Patterson out wide, Rudolph should easily double his totals from 2013, making him a solid TE1 for owners who miss out on a member of the top 5.
By: Sal Marcoccio — July 11, 2014 @ 1:10 pm
Caution. The reasons for Tom Brady’s fantasy flop last season are still in place.
QB Tom Brady
(2013 QB Rank—#12, 21.7 FPts/G)
From a fantasy football perspective, 2013 was Tom Brady’s worst season since the era when he was known as a “game manager.” He finished as QB12 in the final rankings, however, there were 16 better quarterbacks, including Josh McCown, Alex Smith and Sam Bradford, based off of fantasy points per game. It’s easy to blame his decline solely on the fact that he was without his top weapon Rob Gronkowski for most of the season and was forced to lean on mostly young and inexperienced pass catchers. Or maybe the 36-year-old veteran is facing his football mortality. Brady had his lowest yardage and touchdown totals since 2006 and struggled with his deep passing and general accuracy as well. To his credit, Brady spent time this offseason working with private quarterback coach Tom House to correct the accuracy and deep ball issues that plagued him last season. Combine that offseason work with a healthy Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, and the expected growth of Aaron Dobson, then a bounce-back season isn’t out of the question. Brady will be 37, however, to start the season and we all know that Father Time is undefeated. Let one of your league-mates reach for Tommy Boy based on his name recognition, and grab better value at the position a few rounds later.
RB Stevan Ridley
(2013 RB Rank—#26, 9.0 FPts/G)
There are worse things than relying on the whims of Bill Belichick for fantasy production from your starting running back. Those things include an IRS audit, root canal surgery and Lincoln Tunnel traffic. Steven Ridley is an efficient runner with excellent vision who could be a perfect fit for the New England offense, but he often found himself in Belichick’s doghouse whenever he put the ball on the ground in 2013. Coming off a season where he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, Ridley was a major disappointment last season. Ridley finished the season with only 773 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, despite averaging virtually the same yards per carry that he did in 2012 when he spent more time on the bench than he did the year before. Ridley is often spelled on passing downs by Shane Vereen, but last year he started losing early down carries to Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount as well. With the departure of Blount, Ridley should get a reprieve as the most talented “big” back on the roster and could end up as a draft day steal. The team only added another scatback-type runner in the draft in James White, giving Ridley an opportunity to regain the trust of his coaching staff and assume the power back role. If Ridley is available in the middle rounds of your draft, because of a poor 2013, the potential reward should outweigh the risk of him losing carries again this season.
RB Shane Vereen
(2013 RB Rank—#43, 10.9 FPts/G)
Injuries cost Shane Vereen the 2013 breakout season that many had predicted for him. In eight games, Vereen rushed for only 208 yards, but caught 47 balls for 427 yards and scored four total touchdowns. As those numbers indicate, Vereen is a valuable commodity in PPR leagues. He could be an important part of your fantasy team in standard formats as well this season. ESPN”s respected beat reporter Mike Reiss expects Vereen to lead all New England running backs in snaps this season. Vereen is already an integral part of the Patriot passing game with the ability to run inside efficiently despite his smallish frame. He may be asked to do so more this season if Steven Ridley finds his way back into Bill Belichick’s doghouse again this season since the team is currently short on other legitimate options. Vereen has seen his share of injuries throughout his career and reportedly the fractured wrist that he suffered in 2013 is still not 100 percent healed, but when healthy, he should be a consistent RB2/3 with upside.
WR Julian Edelman
(2013 WR Rank—#18, 8.9 FPts/G)
At the start of the 2013 season, Tom Brady was without his top-five pass catchers from 2012 due to injury, free agency and criminal activity. The Patriots then lost prized free agent acquisition Danny Amendola to a groin tear during their opening week contest, further depleting the depth chart. Brady was forced to rely on a handful of rookie wide receivers and journeymen-type tight ends to pick up the slack. Unheralded veteran Julian Edelman then stepped up and caught 105 balls on the season. The former college quarterback was a reliable target for Tom Terrific, but lacked the playmaking ability to keep the offense moving at the levels it was used to achieving since 2007. Edelman managed a meager 10.1 yards per reception and only found the end zone six times. Given those poor metrics, it’s hard to imagine that the team can’t make better use of the 151 targets that went Edelman’s way last season. With that said however, Brady lobbied hard for the Pats to bring the free agent Edelman back this offseason and the team did resign him after he flirted with Houston and San Francisco. In PPR leagues, Edelman could still be a reliable WR3 but with Amendola and Rob Gronkowski healthy and with Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins a little more seasoned, it’s possible his receptions could be cut in half in 2014. Buyers beware.
WR Danny Amendola
(2013 WR Rank—#60, 6.3 FPts/G)
Danny Amendola was signed by the Patriots last offseason immediately following Wes Welker’s signing with the Denver Broncos. Many fantasy footballers not only saw Amendola as a replacement for Welker but also felt that he was a younger and faster version of the man known as “the slot machine.“ Amendola suffered a serious tear of the groin during the opening week contest against Buffalo. He only played in 12 games and was hampered by the injury all season causing him to be a major disappointment to the team and to fantasy owners. He’s now fully healthy and is expected to be a starting outside wide receiver for the team, despite some earlier offseason reports calling him a candidate to be released. Amendola was the star of the 2012 offseason and by all reports he has looked good once again at OTAs this offseason. Amendola offers a pretty similar skill set to Julian Edelman and it will be interesting to see how the team employs what basically amounts to two slot wide receivers in their 2014 offense. Amendola has a reputation of being “injury prone” and last season will not put that perception to rest. In PPR leagues, however, there is potential to use that perception to get some nice draft value for a player that could very well have caught the 105 balls that went to Edelman last season if not for his Week 1 injury.
WR Aaron Dobson
(2013 WR Rank—#59, 6.9 FPts/G)
Aaron Dobson ended his rookie season with only 37 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns, but showed some deep ball skills that could lead to a very nice 2014 season. In Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dobson put up 130 yards and two scores. A foot injury in the next game caused him to miss the next four weeks halting any momentum he was establishing. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, Dobson is a big target, which is otherwise missing at the wide receiver position for the team. He underwent offseason foot surgery and missed OTAs, including valuable time with Tom Brady, but is expected to be healthy for camp and should open the season as a starting wide-out for the team. Dobson is a second-year breakout candidate as the only player on the team with his skill set. The former Marshall product features 4.4 speed with a big frame, the quickness to gain separation and the hands to make spectacular catches downfield.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
(2013 WR Rank—#65, 6.4 FPts/G)
WR Brandon LaFell
(2013 WR Rank—#49, 6.3 FPts/G)
At this point I couldn’t recommend drafting either Kenbrell Thompkins or Brandon LaFell in most leagues. Given the injury histories of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman and the upside that both would possess in this offense, though, fantasy football players need to keep each of them on their radars. Thompkins was all the rage last offseason after an impressive training camp and preseason, but struggled in typical rookie fashion once the games became real. LaFell was signed to a three-year $11 million contract by the Patriots this offseason after a mostly disappointing early career with the Carolina Panthers. The range of possibilities for each of these wide receivers is wide, from winning a starting role to not making the team at all. Therefore, neither amount to anything more than a late-round flier in deep leagues at this point, but that could change when more news out of training camp becomes available.
TE Rob Gronkowski
(2013 TE Rank—#17, 11.9 FPts/G)
Rob Gronkowski has been tagged with the dreaded “injury pone” label by many fantasy football players. At closer look, though, Gronkowski has suffered a series of fluky unrelated injuries. His back may be of some concern, but the broken arm on an extra-point block attempt (and the subsequent re-break) and the ACL/MCL tear caused by a hit to the knee are injuries that any player could have suffered. All reports indicate that Gronkowski will be available for Week 1 and his ADP should climb as more positive news comes out during training camp. On a points per game basis, Gronk still proved to be the second-best tight end in the league last season, and when he’s healthy, he’s by far Tom Brady’s most trusted and most effective weapon in the passing game. Gronkowski has averaged nearly a touchdown per game over his 50-game career (0.84), and while the tight end position has become deeper in recent years, he’s still one of the true difference makers in fantasy football based on his value relative to his position.
By: Nick Caron — July 10, 2014 @ 1:17 pm
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QB Sam Bradford
(2013 QB Rank—#30, 7.1 FPts/G)
2013 was supposed to be a breakout season for former top overall NFL Draft pick Sam Bradford, but injury concerns prevented that, as Bradford would miss nine games of a disappointing season for the Rams franchise. Bradford’s season wasn’t completely lost, however, as he actually produced the best fantasy numbers of his career during his short stint. Bradford threw 14 touchdowns in his seven games while eclipsing the 200-yard passing mark in all but one contest – a blowout win over the Texans wherein he also threw three touchdown passes. The Rams didn’t make any significant improvements to their passing offense over the offseason, but this is a make-or-break season for the young signal-caller. If the quarterback doesn’t make significant strides to not only play well but also stay healthy, St. Louis could be looking for a new quarterback in 2015, especially since head coach Jeff Fisher has no strong ties to Bradford. This should light a fire under Bradford, but fantasy owners should still stay cautious as there isn’t a lot to love in this passing game. St. Louis figures to run the ball heavily in 2014, which limits Bradford’s upside to that of only a QB2 in most leagues.
Zac Stacy started twelve games in 2013, racking up 250 carries.
RB Zac Stacy
(2013 RB Rank—#17, 9.4 FPts/G)
Considering how the season ended for rookie Zac Stacy, it’s almost baffling that St. Louis took as long as they did to finally give him the starting gig. It seemed as if the coaching staff was set on giving every other player an opportunity before finally conceding the job to Stacy in Week 5. From that point on, Stacy was a top-10 fantasy running back, contributing both in rushing yardage as well as touchdowns. Stacy touched the ball 14 or more times in every game once he became “the guy” and rewarded his fantasy owners with the kind of consistency that typically only comes with elite-level running backs. Stacy has a chance to break into that category this season as he heads into training camp as the clear favorite to take the vast majority of carries. Head coach Jeff Fisher has also publicly proclaimed his trust in Stacy, even indicating that he should be in line to take at least 70 percent of the carries out of the St. Louis backfield. It has been a long time since a St. Louis player outside of Steven Jackson has been a fantasy force, but Stacy appears to have a good shot at doing that again in 2014. He will likely be an early second-round pick in most drafts and could even slip into the bottom end of the first round if there are any preseason setbacks for any of the backs ahead of him.
RB Tre Mason
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Rookie running back Tre Mason still has to beat out Benny Cunningham to be the “handcuff” for Zac Stacy owners, but the explosive young playmaker has the ability to be a very nice complementary back in this St. Louis offense. Mason is small in stature at only 5’8″, which could mean that he is not suited to be an every-down back, but he is already a reliable pass protector, a valuable asset for a team like St. Louis with injury concerns at the quarterback position. Look for Mason to primarily play on third down when his blocking abilities can be most utilized and his pass-catching skills can shine in times of need. Don’t expect Mason to be the next Darren Sproles, but he could provide a decent number of pass receptions this season, which may lead to him being on some PPR fantasy radars by the end of the season.
RB Tavon Austin
(2013 WR Rank—#54, 5.1 FPts/G)
Wide receiver Tavon Austin was expected to be one of the top fantasy rookies of the 2013 season and while he lived up to his billing as a human highlight reel on some occasions, his tremendous inconsistency made him frustrating, if not impossible to own in fantasy. Austin had three games where he scored a combined 62 fantasy points, but proceeded to compile just 19 total points in his other 13 starts. The silver lining in this whole situation is that while Austin struggled to stay involved in the offense in his rookie season, he actually enjoyed some of his best games of the season while Sam Bradford was behind center. Austin had just four games where he caught five or more passes in 2013, and all four of them came with Bradford throwing him the ball. Austin is a boom-or-bust type option who is more than likely to be frustrating to own again, but a full offseason of working with Bradford and a year in the offense under his belt could make Austin an enticing late-round selection.
WR Kenny Britt
(2013 WR Rank—#148, 0.3 FPts/G)
The troubled career of Kenny Britt continues in St. Louis as the former Titan looks to rekindle what was once a promising career. Britt, who had one of the brightest futures at the wide receiver position, is now fighting for a roster spot amongst a group of mediocre pass-catchers who have never really produced much on the field. Although former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher has apparently renewed his vows on the Britt marriage, that doesn’t mean that fantasy owners should trust him. Britt’s past success may give him a leg up for an opportunity to get playing time early, but an ugly off-field history and a tremendous lack of concentration on the field makes him only worth a flier at the end of your draft.
WR Chris Givens
(2013 WR Rank—#82, 3.1 FPts/G)
There was reason to believe that Chris Givens could be a breakout fantasy producer heading into the 2013 season. After a nice 100-yard performance in Week 2 against the Falcons, all signs pointed to that happening. Unfortunately that’s about when the wheels started to come off. From that point on, Givens failed to reach even 60 yards receiving in a single game and would even fail to catch more than two passes in any of his final seven games. While he could benefit from Sam Bradford being the quarterback, Givens’ upside is limited in that he is part of a crowded group of underachieving receivers, all of whom are young. Worse yet, Givens’ big claim to fantasy relevance was that he was such a good deep ball receiver back in 2012. With Kenny Britt now rostered, Givens’ opportunities to go deep may be even more limited, leading him to be even less important on draft day. Givens falls into the “do not draft, but keep an eye on him” category. If he can win one of the starting spots in this offense, he could have some value down the road. It’s just hard to trust that it will happen, though, given the situation.
TE Jared Cook
(2013 TE Rank—#11, 5.5 FPts/G)
When Jeff Fisher acquired his former Tennessee draft pick Jared Cook, fantasy owners began to raise their eyebrows about the size and speed combination of this incredible athlete. After one game in a Rams uniform, that attention turned from curiosity to full-blown love. Cook’s seven receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns were an incredible show, especially considering that he was close to catching a third score in that same game. Like most of the rest of the St. Louis offense, though, Cook struggled to remain relevant and would catch only three more touchdowns throughout the remainder of the season. While his athleticism remains unchanged, Cook’s ability to create separation has caused problems and his hands just don’t seem to be up to par with the rest of his physical talents. Cook is being drafted in a wide variety of positions, entirely depending on the confidence that owners have that an additional year in the St. Louis offense will make him more comfortable and lead to bigger numbers. Shockingly enough, Cook might be the player in this pass offense who has the best chance at a breakout season. But in order to do that, Cook is going to have to translate his “training camp warrior” persona into some on-field production. He finished as the No. 11 fantasy tight end a year ago and is likely to finish somewhere around there. Given the lack of proven assets at the tight end position going into this season, Cook has as good of a chance as any to finish in the top five at his position. Draft with low expectations and don’t hesitate to move on if things don’t look good after a few games.
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