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One of the most talented dogs in the dog pound was kenneled for 2014, and it leaves fantasy owners wondering if anybody else is capable of leading the pack.
During the NFL Draft, a lot of analysts refer to the strategy of taking the “Best Player Available” or BPA for short. What this means is that teams will target the best players regardless of positional need. This strategy, known as the “barbell theory,” has been making its way toward fantasy football drafts as well. During this article I will go through a 15-round draft and point out the player who I deem to have the best value regardless of his position. So if you do not luck out and get one of the top-3 picks, you may want to take this approach to field a deep fantasy football team.
In this draft, I will use rankings based on a 12-man league, with a scoring system of .5 PPR and a flex position as well.
1. Eddie Lacy RB/Green Bay Packers ADP: 1.06
Earlier this year in my 5 draft tips article, I announced fantasy owners be wary of drafting second year running backs. However, when I think of the potential Eddie Lacy has in the Green Bay’s offense, he's an exception to this rule When Aaron Rodgers went down with a collarbone injury in 2013, the spotlight turned to the rookie to carry the offense. In the time Rodgers missed, Lacy averaged 4.0 YPC and scored 6 rushing touchdowns. Entering his second season and having a healthy Aaron Rodgers to alleviate pressure means Lacy is in for a monster season.
The next thing going for Lacy is the lack of depth the Packers have at the running back position. Running backs James Starks and DuJuan Harris have shown to be nothing more than complimentary pieces in their time with the Packers, leaving the door wide open for Lacy to get all of the Packers carries. While John Kuhn may vulture a couple of goal line carries throughout the season, Lacy is still listed at No.1 on the Green Bay depth chart as the goal line back.
While Lacy has the ability to run through just about any player in the NFL, he is more than just a one-dimensional running back. Lacy reeled in 35 catches during his rookie campaign, good enough to rank 24th of all eligible running backs. Look for Lacy to improve on those solid numbers and establish himself as a consistent target out of the backfield this season
I project Lacy to have a stat line around 1200 Yds./10 TD’s rushing and 50 Rec/350 Yds., for the season. Those projections slot Lacy around 240 total fantasy points, a total that would have ranked in the top-3 for running backs last season. If you're sitting around the middle of your draft and pondering whether or not to take someone like Megatron or Jimmy Graham, I recommend waiting due to the depth at each position and take the high-upside pick in round one.
2. Brandon Marshall WR/Chicago Bears ADP: 2.03
After taking a risk on my first-round selection of Eddie Lacy, it's crucial to find someone who is going to be predictable with my second-round pick. It's hard-pressed to find any wide receiver, other than Calvin Johnson, who has the consistency of Marshall. During his two seasons in a Bears uniform, Marshall averaged 109 catches per season, as well as averaging close to 1,400 receiving yards.
Some fantasy owners worry third-year receiver Alshon Jeffery will cut into Marshall’s production, but I actually think the opposite is true. Having that second receiving option does not allow defenses to double-team Marshall like they have in the past. It's no secret that Marshall and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler have exceptional chemistry dating back to the time the two played together in Denver, and as true as it is that the sun will rise in the morning, the same can be said about Jay Cutler forcing balls to Brandon Marshall. So, no matter how much Jeffery improves, Marshall will always be Cutler’s safety blanket.
3. Julius Thomas TE/Denver Broncos
Thomas came out of nowhere last season and established himself as one of the top receiving tight ends in the NFL, reeling in 62 catches for 759 yards and 12 touchdowns.
This season Thomas may be the biggest value pick in fantasy football with his third round ADP. In an offense centered around quarterback Peyton Manning, it's no secret that the Broncos will put up absurd passing numbers. With the departure of Eric Decker in free agency, Thomas is in for an increased role as the Broncos number two option on offense. Last season, Thomas was the epitome of consistency, never having fewer than three receptions or targets in a single game.
Being on an offense with wide receivers Demariyus Thomas and Wes Welker, fantasy owners may have concerns that Orange Julius would not get ample opportunities to catch the football. However, the Broncos ranked 1st in the NFL in passing attempts last season and with Welker’s concussion issues surfacing yet again, Thomas is now thrust into a much greater role.
Thomas is the no. 2 tight end on my board for this year’s draft, only behind Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. With the depth at the wide receiver and quarterback position in fantasy football, owners have the luxury to grab a tight end that can produce like a no. 2 running back (would have ranked 18th highest RB)in this spot.
4. Toby Gerhart RB/Jacksonville Jaguars ADP: 4.01
This may be a head-scratcher for some people, considering that players like Randall Cobb, Rob Gronkowski, and Keenan Allen could potentially be on the board, but I urge you to hear me out as I feel Toby could be one of the steals of the running draft class.
During Gerhart’s time in Minnesota, it was hard for him to ever establish himself as a reliable running back due to the presence of Adrian Peterson. However, whenever Toby was forced into the starting role, he seemed to have the ability to carry the load for an offense. Now that Gerhart is in Jacksonville, he will finally get his chance to show whether or not he has the ability to be the feature back of an offense.
With Maurice Jones-Drew off to Oakland, there is a gaping hole for Gerhart to get the bulk of the carries this season. Reports out of Oakland are that the Jaguars want to get Gerhart “around 15-18 touches per game”, but I feel that number is a little bit low. Coach Gus Bradley has emphasized his desire for an offense with a downhill, power-run scheme, much like he did while he was a coordinator in Seattle.
There is no secret that the NFL is a pass-happy league so there is the opportunity for me to grab someone of much greater positional value. Given that Gerhart will be the feature back for the Jaguars, he should produce at the rate of a No. 2 running back, barring he stays healthy.
5. Cordarrelle Patterson WR/Minnesota Vikings ADP: 5.03
I know I listed Patterson in my most recent article titled, Preseason Players on the Rise, however I feel there is no player in fantasy football that has the potential to exceed his fantasy value like the Vikings second-year receiver.
Patterson proved a weapon in multiple ways during his rookie season; lining up out wide, in the slot, and even in the backfield on occasion. There is no coach who has the potential to get the most out of Patterson than new Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner. When Turner was hired he reportedly add 10 plays specifically designed to get Patterson involved in the Vikings offense.
With defenses focused primarily on slowing down All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, Patterson will not feel the pressure to be the face of the Vikings offense. With veteran wide out Greg Jennings and breakout candidate Kyle Rudolph to fill out the rest of the Vikings receiving corps, some could say the Vikings' receivers have the potential to be one of the most improved offenses in the league this season. If Patterson can continue to develop the finer points of his game ,he has a chance to flirt with top-12 wide receiver numbers this season.
6. Tom Brady QB/ New England Patriots ADP: 6.06
I still have memories of the days where Tom Brady and Randy Moss made a mockery of the NFL while lighting up the New England sky like the fourth of July on their way to setting records in several offensive categories. Despite all of the turnover the Patriots have seen on the offensive side of the ball, one-thing remains constant, Tom Brady is going to produce.
Even though the days of 40-touchdown seasons may be behind him, Brady is still one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. In what was considered a “down year” by some people, Brady still had a 25/11 TD:INT and threw for 4,343 yards (6th in the NFL) with what many considered to be a below average unit at the wide receiver position.
The Patriots are hopeful the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski will be a big help. If Gronk and Brady show the same continuity they did when they combined for 38 touchdowns from 2010-13, they stand a chance to be among the top connections this season. Despite being one of the premier red-zone targets in the NFL, Gronkowski also displayed an elite ability to stretch the field, averaging over 14 yards per reception in the same time period.
If Gronkowski can stay healthy, and Julian Edelman and Co. can remain constant, Brady could be in for a monster season yet again.
7. Kyle Rudolph TE/Minnesota Vikings
As much of a benefit as I see the addition of offensive coordinator Norv Turner to be for Cordarrelle Patterson, one could argue that double is true for tight end Kyle Rudolph. Looking at past history, Turner loves to feature the tight end as an integral part of his offense.
In his former stops in Cleveland and San Diego, both Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron emerged as some of the premier tight ends in the NFL. After losing 15 pounds in the offseason, Rudolph seems poised to follow in the footsteps of the previous tight ends in Turner’s system. Rudolph signed a new six-year/ $37.46 million contract extension this offseason, so the time is now for the Notre Dame product to show that he belongs in the conversations as one of the top tight ends in the league.
Last season the Cowboys defense allowed an NFL-record 6,300 total yards of offense. Until the team playing in Jerry World finds a defense, they will continue to bask in the same state of mediocrity they have over the last decade. However, the putrid excuse that the Cowboys call a defense is a blessing to all fantasy owners.
I expect the ‘boys to be in a lot of shoot outs this season making up for the deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball. If you are not lucky enough to land star wide receiver Dez Bryant, running mate Terrance Williams is a dynamite consolation prize.
Last season Williams averaged over 16 yards per reception, a number on par with the likes of Calvin Johnson. While I am not saying that Williams is the same skill level Johnson is, he does have serious value this season. Williams steps in as the starter opposite Dez Bryant for the first time now that Miles Austin departed to Cleveland. With William’s ability to attack defenses vertically, and the need to compensate for a dismal defense, Williams had the potential to produce as an above-average number two fantasy receiver.
QB: Tom Brady
RB: Eddie Lacy
RB: Toby Gerhart
WR: Brandon Marshall
WR: Cordarrelle Patterson
TE: Julius Thomas
Flex: Kyle Rudolph
Bench: Terrance Williams WR
The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks proved they were the best team in the league last year, but they also proved something that fantasy football owners could apply to their teams, and that is success comes from finding gems late in their fantasy football draft.
Editor’s note: This is part three of an eight-part series where we will look at each team’s receiving core by division and analyze which receiver will be the favorite for most targets So you’re telling me. As fantasy owners know, targets are a crucial part of success for fantasy receivers. This week covers the NFC South.
2013 Atlanta Falcons
Quarterback: Matt Ryan
Most targeted receiver in 2013: Harry Douglas (133)
Harry Douglas was the top wide receiver on one of the most pass-happy teams in the NFL last season. It shows you just how a team’s offensive philosophy can still produce fantasy worthy stats even if both starting receivers are injured.
The unlucky wideouts who contracted the injury virus in 2013 were Atlanta’s top two receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. White suffered from a high-ankle sprain and a hamstring injury, which limited him to his first season of less than 1,000 receiving yards since 2006, an incredible feat in and of itself.
Jones on the other hand, fractured his foot for the second time in his career in Week 6. His injury came shortly after he exploded for 580 receiving yards in the season’s first five games, dousing his potential career-year with a tub of gasoline and setting it ablaze.
Had both top receivers not gone down, Douglas would’ve remained a slot receiver, a spot where he was often productive from a change of pace and game plan standpoint but never accrued the kind of stats that would’ve garnered him significant fantasy appeal. A few unfortunate strokes of luck later, he upgraded himself to a reasonably reliable fantasy option, one that could produce at a high level and give fantasy owners steady doses of 70-80 yard efforts and even toss in the occasional 100-yard game.
At 6’0, 183 lbs, Douglas never expected to be utilized in an offense the way he was last season. Yet, even though he was undersized, he still produced. He finished with over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career.
Douglas also benefitted from other situations as well. With Jones out for the year and White not finding his groove until later in the season, Douglas competed only with veteran Tony Gonzalez for targets at times, leaving him as the lone receiver in an offense that threw the ball the second most times of any team in the league last season.
So if Douglas was as successful as he was last year, it means monster fantasy potential for the now healthy Jones and White this year. Plus, with the bigger, less athletic Levin Toilolo replacing the retired Gonzalez, there will be less targets used on the tight end position and even more on the receivers. It wouldn’t be crazy to see close to 180 targets for both White and Jones and also some flirting with 1,000 receiving yards.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is still firmly entrenched as the team’s franchise guy, and as long as the offensive line holds up, the sky appears to be the limit for this offense.
What could’ve been
Before his injury last season, Jones was on pace for nearly 2,000 receiving yards. He recorded as many as 15 targets in one game and never saw less than nine in that five-game stint. His 14.1 yards per catch ranked among the best in the league.
What they’re both capable of
When you look at what they Jones and White did in the 2011 and 2012 seasons when they were both relatively healthy, you could see White was still favored in the offense. In 2012, White drew 143 targets to Jones’ 129. Jones edged White in touchdowns 10:7 while White beat Jones in receiving yards 1,351:1,198. During Jones’ rookie year in 2011, White dominated in targets with 181 while Jones ended up with just 96. White and Jones both record eight touchdowns that season.
Three years later, and we have a 32-year-old receiver in White while Jones entering the all-so-important third season of his career. White is now fully healthy, signed to a new 4-year, $30 million deal and is still one of the most respected route runners which allows his performance to defy his age.
Jones is 25 years old, coming off foot surgery after he fractured his fifth metatarsal in his foot, which is fancy doctor language for the area around the middle of the foot. Luckily, doctors have said the injury doesn’t lead to long-term effects. Jones saw his first game action since last October against Houston last Saturday. He caught two passes for 20 yards on four targets and even though he’s got some catching up to do, he’s still on pace to be ready for the regular season.
When it comes to who will get more targets, the answer is probably White. But it doesn’t matter so much as Jones is equally talented and equally utilized in the offense. They’ll likely trade off who gets the hot hand from week or week, which could limit one’s upside almost like a receiver-by-committee style of offense. Jones clearly has the higher ceiling, and White is old reliable. White is the better ADP value right now at No. 45 overall, but Jones could shatter records if he’s healthy. It’s a great problem for Atlanta to have, and if you’re a fantasy owner, you can’t go wrong with either of them.
Likely most targeted receiver for 2014: White
Projected targets: 160
Here are a few players whose fantasy stock has fallen during their recent preseason outings.
Sammy Watkins, WR Buffalo Bills
Going into the 2014 NFL draft, I considered Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins to be the best of a very deep group. After being drafted by the Buffalo Bills, I have some major questions as to whether he can be counted on as a fantasy option during his rookie season. However, my questions do not have anything to do with Watkins skill set, but rather with his quarterback.
Through two preseason games, starting quarterback E.J. Manuel displayed the same inconsistencies that plagued him during his rookie season. Manuel had multiple passes batted down, along with struggling on his accuracy (11/20 in first two games), and being been slow to go through his progressions. Going into his second season as the Bills starting quarterback, it is now or never for the Florida State product. With a running game centered around veterans, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, the Bills have a stable running game. With Manuel’s inconsistencies throwing the football and health concerns (11 games missed in 2013) it is a fair question if he can be the Bills quarterback of the future.
In May, the Bills mortgaged a piece of the future to move up in the draft and grab Watkins (2015 1st and 4th Round Picks). Watkins displayed everything you want in a no.1 receiver while at Clemson; speed (4.41 40-yd dash), acceleration (1.53 10-yd split), reliable hands (4.49% drop rate), and the ability to take any pass the distance. Watkins could be the most complete receiver to enter the draft since A.J. Green, and will be the focal point of the Bills passing attack in the future. However, as long as E.J. Manuel struggles with his accuracy (58.8% in 2013), and decision-making (11:9/TD:INT) there are legitimate concerns as to whether or not Watkins and the rest of the Bills receiving corps can be counted on to produce consistently for fantasy football owners
Value: Low WR3/High WR
Preseason Week 1: 4 Rec/14 Yds, 2 Drops
Jordan Matthews had been called the “star of Eagles camp” according to several Eagles columnists, getting a lot of time with the first-team offense. With the high praise coming from Philadelphia, it is concerning that Matthews flopped like he did in week one of the preseason. Matthews dropped two passes during the Eagles opening preseason game, showing scouts critiques about Matthews consistency catching the football have some validity.
This is not the first time there have been concerns about Matthews’ consistency catching the football. During his senior season at Vanderbilt, Matthews dropped 7.69% of the passes thrown his way. Even though Matthews struggled to catch the ball consistently, his production was unmatched (SEC All-Time Receiving Yards Leader).
With the departure of DeSean Jackson to Washington, there is a gaping hole between starters Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper as the Eagles slot receiver. With Matthews’ strong training camp, many consider Matthews the front-runner for the job. Matthews acknowledged his rough debut, stating, “Those were catches I should have definitely had,” adding “those are balls that I’ve caught before in games and in practices. That’s a basic concentration thing.”
If Matthews can bounce back from his rough debut, there is no doubt that he can serve value in the Eagles up-tempo spread offense. However, if Matthews continues to let balls slip though his hands, he may see his opportunities to contribute go with it. But it was just one game, after all.
Matthews bounced back in a big way in week two against the Patriots; reeling in 11 passes for a game-high 104 yards. This is a positive sign for the rookie wide receiver, showing that his two drops in week one were due to nerves rather than his concentration. Matthews can take hold of the Eagles slot receiver position with another solid performance in week three of the preseason. If Matthews does get the job, he will have immediate value in PPR leagues as a solid number four receiver, giving him extra value in PPR leagues
ADP: Mid 12th
Editor’s note: This is part three of an eight-part series where we will look at each team’s receiving core by division and analyze which receiver will be the favorite for most targets. As fantasy owners know, targets are a crucial part of success for fantasy receivers. This week covers the NFC South.