Post-Draft Stock Watch
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We love it when the planets align in the NFL Draft and things shake out ideally for fantasy purposes.
But sometimes, those planets are way too far away from each other.
Consider 2014 to be one of those years.
There were some winners coming out of the draft, particularly a large group of QBs. And while there weren’t a lot of clear losers, there were an inordinate number of running backs whose values became a lot cloudier in our fantasy world, and that’s not good.
But we can only react to the marketplace presented to us every season and proceed accordingly, and you can consider this comprehensive review of the post-draft landscape – as well as my Post-Free Agency Stock Watch
– as the beginning of your 2014 preparation.
(Det) – Even though I knew there was a chance Stafford could get a top skill player in the draft, I still went ahead and did his projection for 2014 before the draft kicked off, and Stafford landed at #6 at QB. And although rookie TEs tend to fall short of expectations more often than not, we have to consider the addition of stud TE Eric Ebron
as a significant one for Stafford. Ebron will be new OC Joe Lombardi’s
new Jimmy Graham
, and while he’s not in Graham’s class overall, Ebron is faster than Graham and looks like a major matchup nightmare for opposing defenses who typically already have their hands full with Calvin Johnson
. Ebron has the speed to be a mismatch against linebackers, and the size to be a mismatch against strong safeties (which would also open up the middle of the field for the WRs). In addition, the Lions in the 6th
round added an underrated player in T.J. Jones, who played all four years at Notre Dame. Jones might have been the best route-runner in this year’s draft class because of his explosive cuts out of breaks, and with his reliable hands, Jones has a chance to become a quarterback’s best friend. He project best in the slot, but he can play outside, so there is some flexibility with him and Golden Tate
, who already fits in here very well. Add this receiving corps up with their two RBs, both of whom can catch the ball well, and Stafford’s
supporting cast is looking strong. Keep in mind they return all five starters on the OL – and they were excellent blocking for the pass in 2013. Also keep in mind that they neglected to seriously address their biggest need, which was corner, so their secondary could remain sieve-like, which means Stafford’s attempts should be high yet again. Finally, let’s keep in mind Stafford now has FIVE receivers who are 6’4” or taller, so they’re going to be really, really tough to stop in the red zone. Ultimately, we’re just going to have to forgive Stafford for his horrendous December last year.
Ben Roethlisberger (QB, Pit) – Last year OC Todd Haley handed over more control of the offense to Big Ben, and the Steelers started to take off in the second half of the season. Roethlisberger quietly had one of his finest seasons as a pro in his 10th year, finishing tied for 10th among QBs, with 21.3 FPG. The Steelers wisely addressed their aged defense with their first two picks, but they also took advantage of the depth at RB and WR and snagged two very intriguing offensive puzzle pieces. They’ve tried and failed in the recent past to add a speedy changeup runner in their backfield (Chris Rainey and LaRod Stephens-Howling), but they’ll give it another go with 3rd-round pick Dri Archer. Archer is tiny (5’7”, 173 pounds), but he has amazing lower-body explosiveness. He’s an electric playmaker on offense, with a floor as a screen and gadget player, and he could also eventually be a dynamic slot weapon because it’s hard to see him lining up at RB too often (although he has work to do as a route-runner). They also added one of favorite WR sleepers in the draft in Martavis Bryant, who has excellent 4.4 speed for his size (6’4”). The Steelers have indicated that he could start, but I’m hardly convinced he will. He’s basically a one-year wonder, and has had some work ethic issues and can play soft for his size. Still, he’s a really appealing player who will, at worst, be a red-zone threat for them and a player they take a deep shot to here and there. And let’s not forget about the intriguing Markus Wheaton. The drafting of Bryant isn’t good news for Wheaton overall, but he’s still a player who can do what Mike Wallace did for Big Ben. They also added a TE in Rob Blanchflower who has some similarities to starter Heath Miller. All of a sudden, this is an intriguing supporting cast for Roethlisberger.
Colin Kaepernick (SF) – I’m a bit of a Kaepernick apologist because his upside for fantasy is obvious due to his running ability and his elite arm strength, so I’m looking for excuses to pump him up. While I’m not expecting an offensive bonanza, I do feel pretty good about Kap in 2014. The Niners surprisingly spent the 57th pick overall on RB Carlos Hyde, which could result in the one of the ugliest RBBCs in the history of the sport this year. More important, it once again proves that the identity of his offense will continue to be the power running game. That’s not great news for Kaepernick in terms of upping his number of attempts, which remained low in ’13 at only 26 per game. I would think he can bump that up a little, perhaps to 30 per game, but the main point is that he should have more success when he throws. They’re pretty loaded at receiver now with their top-3 incumbents in Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, and Anquan Boldin to go along with new addition Stevie Johnson, who is a very savvy player. I was obsessed with speed in the draft for the 49ers, and while they didn’t land a stud, they did get speed in slot in the form of 4th-round pick Bruce Ellington. Ellington can work the middle of the field and is a good route-runner, but he can also get downfield and has RAC potential. Obviously, receiver depth is no longer a problem for Kaepernick, and they’ve increased their speed, so this is all enough for me to push Kaepernick as a solid value and top-10 QB in 2014.
Josh McCown (QB, TB) – Who knew Lovie Smith was so interested in offense? Drafting what looked like a fantasy team, the Bucs went WR, TE, and RB with their first three picks, then added two offensive linemen to help their depth there, and they also grabbed a nifty slot receiver, which has been needed in Tampa for years, in Robert Herron. All of a sudden, the Bucs have a very intriguing offense. McCown will once again have the “twin towers” at wide receiver, like he did last season in Chicago. McCown was pushing for Mike Evans before the draft, and the Bucs made it a goal to give him two big targets again season. In TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, McCown gets a new version of Martellus Bennett in a TE who can block but is also a very viable receiver. The addition of RB Charles Sims was a bit of a buzz kill for Doug Martin, but Tampa couldn’t pass on a back who they felt had the third-best hands in the draft (behind Evans and ASJ). This should be a pretty decent OL, and we know McCown is a savvy pro, so I expect success right out of the gate. As I’ve been saying for a several weeks now, McCown’s supporting cast here is actually comparable to what he had in Chicago, where he put up big numbers.
Drew Brees (NO) – Not that Brees wasn’t going to post big numbers for Sean Payton yet again in 2014, but you have to LOVE the addition of WR Brandin Cooks, who is arguably the most explosive receiver in this draft. Cooks isn’t very big and could have some issues making contested catches and the like, so I felt he needed to go to a team that was equipped to utilize his skill set well, and there’s no better place than New Orleans. Cooks told me a few weeks ago that he likes to play outside because there’s a lot more he can do in terms of his route-running, but he also acknowledged that he’ll likely play the slot a lot in the pros. I’m sure Payton will use Cooks all over the place, though, and will take advantage of his unique speed and quickness. Payton could even develop a role for Cooks that is very similar to the ones he used for Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush in the past. Brees’ offense is certainly more dynamic than it was before the draft, thanks to the addition of Cooks.
(Ind) – I’ve covered the state of Luck’s receiving corps already this year in my Post-Draft Stock Watch
, but one thing I failed to mention in that write-up was the state of their OL. It’s not an atrocious line with major red flags, but it’s not particularly good. Luck can rise above that and he has risen above that, but it was nice to see them use their first pick (59th
overall) on Jack Mewhort
, who can play at LT but can also play all five line spots. So at least they got a little better up front. The Colt receiving corps is looking so much better right now compared to the second half of last season, due to the returns of WR Reggie Wayne
and TE Dwayne Allen
, and we know they also added a veteran in Hakeem Nicks
, who is talented and is still young at 26. They have some other capable receivers, namely the talented Da’Rick Rodgers
, but the guy to get excited about is 3rd-
round pick Donte Moncrief
, whose playing style our guy Greg Cosell compared to Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon because of his size and running ability, and Moncrief is explosive after the catch like those WRs. He’ll need some time to develop, but he has the physical tools to excel at the X, and he’s got the deceptive speed to become a downfield weapon. He was a savvy pick to play behind Nicks this year, and if Nicks has more injury issues, he could be a viable replacement, since
Moncrief was a three-year starter in the SEC. On paper, Luck’s supporting cast at receiver this year looks about 300% better than it did in the second half of 2013 (when Luck was still a top-7 guy).
Aaron Rodgers (GB) – This isn’t a major upgrade, but I do like how the Packers have reloaded at receiver, adding three solid prospects, especially 2nd-round pick Davante Adams, who finished first in catches (131) and second in yards (1719) in the NCAA last season in Fresno State’s pass-oriented attack. Adams may not be an explosive athlete, but similar to the departed James Jones, Adams is a well-rounded and savvy receiver with no glaring holes in his game. He didn’t run a full route tree in Fresno State’s offense, and we’ve seen young receivers come out of the gate a little slow off the mark here in the past, so I’m not expecting too much from Adams in year one. They also added an interesting slot receiver in Jared Abbrederis, who has strong hands, great ball skills, and savvy route-running. Finally, they probably ended the Jermichael Finley era officially with the drafting of Cal’s Richard Rodgers in the 3rd round. Rodgers is a move TE all the way, and he reminded our Greg Cosell of Jordan Reed (he’s a little bigger than Reed, but he’s not as athletic). Each of these rookie receivers will need to work on their route-running and gain the trust of their Pro Bowl QB, which will take time. So we’re probably not going to see too much from them as a group. But again, Rodgers’ depth at WR and TE has improved considerably, and that can only help brighten his outlook in 2014.
EJ Manuel (Buf) – Any team would be looking to surround its former #1 pick at QB with weapons, but Buffalo’s bold move to move up in the draft – and mortgage some of its future to do so – and select the most skilled offensive player in the 2014 draft in WR Sammy Watkins – reminds me a little of the Cincinnati Bengals’ approach with Andy Dalton. Dalton has some flaws and limitations, and I believe they have factored them into some of their draft decisions, as they’ve loaded up on offensive talent around Dalton. I get a similar sense with Manuel, who is not a natural thrower and still needs plenty of polish. In fact, GM Doug Whaley basically said after the draft that they "want to surround Manuel with every possible weapon we can to help us get to where we need to go." Watkins is a player who can immediately make Manuel better, and that was clearly a big factor in their decision to get him and subsequent decision to trade veteran Stevie Johnson. The Bills next grabbed T Cyrus Kouandjio in the 2nd round, and he should step right into their RT spot and give Manuel a pair of solid bookends, and the 6’7” Kouandjio should help their run blocking. The Bills didn’t add a TE as expected, but there are certainly some intriguing weapons here for Manuel (keep in mind they traded for vet Mike Williams). It’s probably not enough to make me inclined to push Manuel hard as an upside backup, but adding a special receiving talent like Watkins certainly helps.
Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano (KC) – I thought there was a decent chance the Chiefs would select one of the top-5 TEs in this draft, but it’s quite possible that they’re encouraged with Kelce’s comeback from micro-fracture knee surgery (he was working out with the team in late April). Kelce is definitely someone to watch because he has the talent to be a complete TE, and because this is a TE-friendly offense with a QB who makes his living throwing inside the numbers and to the TE. If Kelce’s out of commission, then the grizzled Fasano would actually be worth a look with your last pick. Fasano just missed several TDs last year, and he did score 3 times. This situation is worth monitoring because there’s sneaky value here. Obviously, Kelce is the player to focus on and hope for, since he could be given a large role if healthy.
Levine Toilolo (Atl) – Toilolo was the only other TE to catch a pass last year for the Falcons other than Tony Gonzalez, finishing with 11/55/2 on 14 targets (excellent 78.6% catch rate). We were waiting for the draft to get a handle on his role, and now we know: Toilolo will see a drastic role change this season. Toilolo is extremely raw, but he’s a big guy (6’8”, 260 pounds) who should be an effective red-zone target and run blocker. He was able to learn a lot working with Gonzalez, and he’s been praised by teammates (especially QB Matt Ryan) for his work ethic and ability to learn from his mistakes. He’s a project who needs work with his receiving skills, but Atlanta didn’t draft a TE, nor did they acquire one of note in free agency, so Toilolo should dominate the TE targets here. We’ll also see more 3-WR sets, which is also good news for wideout Harry Douglas.
St. Louis Ram Defense (Stl) – We liked the Ram defense a lot last summer, but while they started off slowly in September, they were actually the third-best fantasy defense in most scoring systems in 2013. From Week Five on, they were #1, with 44 sacks, 13 INTs, 11 fumble recoveries, and 6 DT/ST TDs. Now, after adding DT Aaron Donald with the 13th overall pick of the draft, they have four 1st-round draft picks on their defensive line, which doesn’t seem fair for opposing offenses. They also added a really solid football player in Lamarcus Joyner, who can lock down opposing slot receivers, and they might have helped solve their issues at safety with 4th-round pick Mo Alexander. Finally, they added LB Michael Sam, who can be an effective sub-package player in Gregg Williams’ defense. Needless to say, this fantasy unit is looking even better for 2014. This defense might land #1 overall in our projections later this month.
Arizona Cardinal Defense (Ari) – The Cardinals are lacking a young pass rusher, and that aspect of their defense is in question this year. Still, they were 7th in the league with 47 sacks last year, and we know the defense is very talented and strong overall. They were 6th in total scoring in 2014, and their secondary could be a shutdown group on the back end. S/slot CB Tyrann Mathieu's rehabilitation from two torn knee ligaments has gone well, but we won’t know how well for a few months. But if things go well, and if free agent acquisition
Antonio Cromartie bounces back and plays up to his talent, they could have the best secondary in football, with SS Deone Bucannon added with the 27th overall pick of the draft. That secondary should help the pass rush, which will help us in the fantasy world. This is a top-5 NFL defense, and given their upside potential, this unit should be targeted and ranked as a top-5 fantasy defense this preseason.
Cleveland Browns Defense (Cle) – The Brown defense did score a solid 5 DT/ST TDs in 2013, but it was still in the bottom half in the league last year for fantasy. There is a clear disconnect, though, between talent and their fantasy standing because this is a very talented defense, with 8-9 quality starters heading into the draft. We can add at least one more to that list because they used the 8th pick overall on big corner Justin Gilbert. New HC Mike Pettine is a Rex Ryan disciple, and with Gilbert and Joe Haden he now potentially has his two shutdown corners he can put on an island and then bring the house. The Browns may be better off as a WW target early in the 2014 season, but they’ll likely be flirting with our top-12 for 2014 once we get our projections done later this month.
(KC) – I covered all their free agency losses this year, all of which could adversely affect Smith, in my Post-Free Agency Stock Watch
. But it’s time for another downgrade because the team did little to help him in the draft. They did effectively replace the departed Dexter McCluster
with De'Anthony Thomas
, who is more talented and presents more upside than the new Titan and former Chief. But they also shockingly failed to draft a receiver (WR or TE), so Smith’s receiving corps is absolute skank right now. Smith’s also reportedly heading for something of a contract impasse (he’s a free agent after 2014), and KC was allegedly going to draft Johnny Manziel
at 23 overall, but the Eagles traded the 22nd
pick to Cleveland. And then they drafted Aaron Murray
in the 5th
round (although that’s not a big deal for 2014). As productive as Smith was in 2013, I still feel like he’s a guy who can put up 13 points for you in a given week, so I think I’d rather lose than try to win with him as a fantasy backup in 2014.
Matt Cassel (QB, Min) – Cassel is capable of playing well for a string of games, but he’ll undoubtedly hit a rough patch and/or will put up a few stinkers before too long. He’s just not good enough to consistently play well against any type of defense and any scheme. There’s talk of giving rookie Teddy Bridgewater plenty of time to develop, and I won’t rule out a stronger-than-expected showing from Cassel under the tutelage of Norv Turner. But let’s be real: Bridgewater’s going to play this year. It’s a complicated offense, but Cassel’s new to it as well, and Bridgewater is a quick study who exhibited plenty of next-level intelligence in college. He’s much more mobile, and he’s probably a better player right now already, so the cream should rise to the top quickly.
Doug Martin (TB) – To be clear, had the Bucs not drafted Charles Sims in the third round, I might have backed Martin as a top-15 pick in an offense that is was shaping up beautifully for Martin – until they took Sims. I’m not going to panic about this, but it has prompted me to drop Martin a little. The day I got to the combine this year, Lovie Smith was the first coach at the podium I saw, and one of the first things I heard him talk about was how he wanted another back in the mix along with Martin. Lovie isn’t running the offense, but everyone in Tampa seems to be on the same page, and I’m not surprised the Bucs took an interesting player like Sims. The Bucs said they couldn’t pass on his hands, so I would imagine Sims will get considerable snaps this year. That takes away from Martin’s upside as a touch Bogart in this backfield, but I still think he’s worth a 2nd round pick in a fantasy draft. He’s still quality young runner who’s versatile, and this offense looks really interesting this year.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard (RBs, Cin) – Obviously, their selection of LSU’s Jeremy Hill in the 2nd round is a much bigger issue for the Law Firm than it is for Gio. But the prospect of selecting Bernard in the first round of 2014 fantasy drafts is more unsettling than it was a day before the festivities kicked off in NYC on the 9th of May. Green-Ellis is in the final year of his contract, and even if he makes it through August with a roster spot, he’s basically off the grid for fantasy because he was a weak producer in 2013, with no competition for his role as the bigger and short-yardage back (41st in PPG in a non-PPR and 47th in PPR plus 3.4 YPC). Bernard actually got more work in the red zone than BJGE last year, so Law Firm is DOA for 2014 unless there’s an injury. Hill isn’t going to make many NFL defenders miss, nor will he get to the edge consistently in the pros, so he’s a volume guy at the next level. There may not be much volume unless Green-Ellis is gone, but Hill can catch the ball and contribute in the pass game (where BJGE is worthless) and he can certainly be an effective goal-line back. The club used Gio inside the 5 and 10 more than many expected last year, but Hill could be a threat. I’m not going to panic, of course, so this addition is more about moving Gio down from the bottom of Round One in fantasy drafts to the top of Round Two. Long-term, although it should prevent Gio from being overworked, it does limit Bernard’s upside. Hill will eventually be a guy who needs to get more than 200 carries a season, which means it’ll be unrealistic to believe Gio will get more than 200 carries a season. But obviously, Gio’s touch totals should be more than acceptable.
Jacquizz Rodgers (RB, Atl) – I actually thought Rodgers looked better than ever running the ball at times in 2013, but he still averaged only 3.4 YPC, and his usage and production wasn’t very consistent. Quizz will see his salary jump this season because he played on 35% of the snaps for the second straight year, and it’s also the final year of his contract, so it was time for the team to make a decision on him. By drafting Devonta Freeman with the 103rd pick overall in the 3rd round, I believe they already have and that Rodgers is done in Atlanta after this season. His experience gives him an edge over Freeman for snaps, but Freeman is a much better version of a complementary back than Rodgers. He doesn’t have breakaway speed for his size, but Freeman has some short-area burst to get downhill in a hurry. He actually has some Frank Gore in him because of his vision inside, and he makes defenders miss in the hole and refuses to go down on first contact, despite his size. Freeman’s shown reliable hands and can catch balls outside the frame of his body, but more important for him initially, Freeman is one of the best pass protectors in this year’s draft class. Freeman is a better fill-in starter for Steven Jackson than Rodgers, and he’s a better version of Rodgers than Rodgers himself.
Stevie Johnson (SF) – It almost goes without saying, but Johnson does move from being the top option in his passing game in Buffalo to probably the fourth option over the course of the season in San Fran. The 49ers don’t usually throw for a ton of TDs, so it’s hard to get behind Johnson as anything more than a late throwaway pick, as solid and savvy as he is.
Josh Gordon (Cle) – Our biggest fears, they have been realized. If you’re reading the site closely you know that for well over a year, and even in our last keeper/dynasty update on 4/17/14, we’ve listed Gordon’s situation as prohibiting us from going bananas with his ranking. GM Ray Farmer pretty much admitted that Gordon’s in trouble over draft weekend, and if Gordon is “in trouble,” we can assume that it’s a long suspension because he’s been staring at that with one more slipup for about a year. In terms of fantasy football and the Browns football team, this is a tragedy of Elizabethan proportions (that means it’s a big tragedy). Let’s hope his suspension is for only half the season, which is being floated out there as a possibility.
Reuben Randle (NYG) – Although he projects best as a Z receiver, the Giants view #1 pick Odell Beckham as an outside receiver because of his speed, and they believe he will help take some pressure off Victor Cruz. They’ve downplayed the need for ideal size for their split end (X) position, so the addition of Beckham is bad news for Randle, his former college teammate. Randle should be more of a rotational guy, their third receiver, and while we know he can produce in that role, this is a clear case of a player failing to take advantage of an opportunity. Heck, Randle essentially failed before he even got the opportunity to start at X for the departed Hakeem Nicks. In Randle’s defense, it’s a new system in New York this year, and Beckham’s game is different. The Giants want speed, and Beckham has plenty of that. Randle might even have to compete with veteran Mario Manningham for snaps, so his stock has taken a big hit.
(Hou) – If Johnson plays all 16 games, he’s been a lock for 100+ catches, and he’s done that in five of his last eight seasons and the last two years. Amazingly, he’s yet to score double-digit TDs, and with his YPC last year at its lowest point since 2006 (12.9), he was able to produce, despite their QB issues last year, due to volume. His 179 targets were the most he’s seen in his 11-year career, but if you won with Johnson last year it might be time to quit while you’re ahead and avoid him in 2014 unless he slips too far and presents a great value. He’s entering his 12th
NFL season, and he’ll be 33 in July. That’s not ancient, but it’s getting up there, and he’s put a lot of stress on his body over the last decade plus. But obviously, the bigger problem with Johnson is the QB situation in Houston. With Ryan Fitzpatrick
and Case Keenum
on the roster, we knew they were going to acquire another QB on draft weekend, but in Tom Savage
they didn’t exactly get a plug-and-play guy. Savage played last year in a pro-style system, and he has a strong arm downfield and on the perimeter, so he can make all the throws. However, he’s a bit of an “arm thrower,” which can result in chronic accuracy issues, which might explain his poor 56.8 completion percentage last year. He doesn’t throw receivers open, and the ball is often late, plus he tends to stare down his primary target, doesn’t see the whole field, he forces throws into coverage. Savage is not a good athlete, but he’s a Bill O’Brien type of guy in that he’s a big pocket passer. In short, he’s a project, so we’ll likely see a lot of Ryan Fitzpatrick this year. That might not be a disaster, since Fitz is at least a decent veteran, but Johnson hasn’t been thrilled with the direction of the organization, and he’s already skipped some voluntary workouts he usually attends, so his situation is something to watch. Johnson’s a future Hall of Famer coming off a 100-catch season, so we’ll only downgrade him so far, but he does look like a player who we shouldn’t project for 2014 based on his stellar 2013.
Anquan Boldin (SF) – We liked Boldin last summer due in large part to the expected volume he’d receiver on the receiver-poor 49ers, and he was in the top-20 in 2013 in terms of WR targets. He had a nice year, but he did put up underwhelming numbers in 40% of his games. He’ll also be 34 years old in November, so the addition of Stevie Johnson is a problem for Boldin. Johnson does a lot of his work out of the slot, plus they drafted Bruce Ellington, who could get snaps because he offers the speed that no one else on the roster offers. I would imagine that Johnson will play outside some, with Boldin in the slot, but I would have to also think they want to get Ellington some snaps (in the slot) as well due to his speed. Ultimately, when I add it all up, it’s hard to see Boldin getting even 75% of the targets he got in 2013.
Jarrett Boykin (GB) – As mentioned above, I do think it’s hard for a rookie receiver to make a big splash in this offense, and recent history shows that guys like Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb needed at least one season under their belts before they were able to put up bigger numbers. That said, Boykin will probably hang on to his role in this passing game as their third wideout for most of 2014. However, while Boykin did a really nice job in 2013, he’s not exactly a high-end physical talent with a significant body of work in this offense, so I would be slightly concerned by the addition of Davante Adams, who we think is a really nice player. Boykin has been in the offense a couple of seasons, but it’s entirely possible that Adams dips into his snaps by season’s end. Boykin wasn’t standing out as a great fantasy pick to begin with, and his potential has taken a hit given all these additions.
Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews (Mia) – The Dolphins are the AFC’s version of the Panthers in that they’ve assembled a nice collection of #3 WRs, but these two are basically toast after the team drafted the rock-solid Jarvis Landry in the 2nd round, 63rd overall. Landry barring an upset should be their opening-day slot receiver, and Gibson’s roster spot is in jeopardy. Matthews showed last year that he belongs in the league, but he’s nothing special. Landry is an Anquan Boldin-type who should complement starters Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline well.
Justin Blackmon (Jac) – The Jags haven’t yet received notice from the league as to whether or not Blackmon will be eligible to return in 2014, but it probably doesn’t matter. After selecting WR Marquise Lee in the 2nd round and then Allen Robinson 20 picks later also in the second round, the Jags are basically giving up on Blackmon. Even if he’s re-instated by the league, he’s no lock to be in Jacksonville’s plans, so Blackmon’s value looks nil for this year.
Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin (Hou) – We’re going to have to see what everyone’s roles are here, but with C.J. Fiedorowicz now in the mix, these guys are both in danger of losing snaps and targets. Fiedorowicz has a little Rob Gronkowski in him, and he not only patterns his game after Gronk, he’ll be working with Texan QB coach George Godsey, who coached the Patriot TEs the last four years and knows Gronk well. Fiedorowicz is known for his blocking, but he’s an underrated receiver. He’s just a rookie, but it’s a new system here, so the veterans don’t have quite the leg up on him. That said, Fiedorowicz will get on the field, which will limit Graham and Griffin’s upside. Griffin is actually more athletic than Graham, but Graham is more accomplished in the pros and was re-signed this year to a new 3-year deal. He was set to be the “move” TE here, and he will likely have that role over Griffin in 2014. But with a shaky QB situation and three guys in this position in the mix, there might not be a lot of production to go around, and if all three get on the field, they could cancel each other out over the course of a full season.
Rob Housler (Ari) – While I don’t expect 2nd-round pick Troy Niklas to be a huge factor this year, it’s certainly possible that he’ll contribute, and in fact HC Bruce Arians said after the draft that he expects Niklas to contribute. He could easily get on a field a lot because of his outstanding blocking. But long-term, it’s indisputable that Housler’s time in Arizona is over. He’s had three seasons to develop and emerge, and while there were some flashes in 2013, he really hasn’t, so it’s over for him. The team added veteran John Carlson in free agency, and he could be something of a stopgap until Niklas is ready. Housler will remain the starter and should lead them in TE targets, but his margin for error is small, and it got a little smaller in 2014 due to the Niklas pick. He’s only someone to pick up during the season at this point.
Brandon Pettigrew (Det) – The Lions re-signed the underwhelming veteran to a contract extension this off-season, but at the time they were fairly desperate and thin at receiver. Ebron and Pettigrew could be on the field quite a bit together, but Ebron is clearly the better receiver of the two players. Plus, Joseph Fauria is still expected to be a factor down in the red zone, so Pettigrew’s role could be significantly diminished in the passing game. Pettigrew is still the best blocker of the group, which will help him get on the field, but he won’t see nearly the same volume of targets that he once saw. It’s basically over for him.
Jeff Cumberland (NYJ) – After reviewing the stats from 2013, we placed Cumberland on the radar as a potential sleeper. His 9.95 yards-per-target was an elite number, and he did that with a poor QB situation, with rookie Geno Smith’s level of playing being very erratic. In the first half of the season, when Smith was (mostly) surprisingly solid, Cumberland’s catch rate was 68.2% and his YPT was an outstanding 11.27. Of course, as we mentioned in March, they could still draft a TE of note, and they did in Jace Amaro. We’re still going to keep Cumberland in our back pockets as a potentially viable fantasy option, especially since he’s a veteran with experience in this offense. But even though Amaro will have to adjust to a pro-style offense, and even though the West Coast offense operates best with 2 TEs, Amaro’s addition is a killer for Cumberland because the rookie should play right away, and he’s more talented than the veteran.
Tony Romo (QB, Dal) – Dallas showed discipline passing on QB Johnny Manziel, and they continue to pour resources into protecting their franchise QB, which is still obviously Romo. He’s had two back surgeries and is cruising into his mid-30s, but if all is well with Romo’s health in the summer, he’ll once again present solid value in drafts. For fantasy, you have to love how Dallas has operated and is currently set up. The defense stinks and they have stockpiled offensive skill player talent, plus Dallas has now used a #1 draft pick on an offensive lineman in 3 of their last 4 drafts. And for Romo’s sake, it’s even better because two of them could make up his bookend tackles. #1 pick Zack Martin could certainly open the season up as a G, as they can stick with Doug Free at RT for another year. But they have flexibility if Free struggles (we didn’t hear his name at all in 2013, which is a good thing). Ultimately, the Cowboy line is a real strength these days, so we’re okay if the porous defenses forces Romo to throw, throw, throw because he should get the protection he needs. Between his escapability and these reinforcements on the line, you do feel better about Romo’s ability to make it through at least another NFL season this year.
Nick Foles (QB, Phi) – The Eagles didn’t exactly make a big splash in the draft at wide receiver, which is a tad disappointing for Foles because a top wideout would have been nice with DeSean Jackson gone. But they did add two solid players in Jordan Matthews (2nd round) and Josh Huff (3rd round). Despite his big production in college, we weren’t particularly high on Mathews for a variety of reasons and we felt, since he’s not a top athlete at the position, he would need to get scheme help if he was to produce in the NFL. Luckily for Matthews, Philly is the prefect landing spot for a player who needs help from both the scheme and the QB. He’s not a stud who moves extremely well, but the Eagles like him inside because they feel he can beat press coverage due to his size, which is what they were looking for. They also added a player in Huff who played for Chip Kelly at Oregon, so he knows the system. Huff is actually more athletic and explosive than Matthews, and is more versatile. I’m not thrilled with the draft for Foles, but these two players should be enough to keep the production coming as long as Jeremy Maclin’s recovery continues to do well and TE Zach Ertz takes a step forward, as everyone expects.
Russell Wilson (QB, Sea) – Wilson’s numbers his first two seasons have been remarkably consistent, but unfortunately for fantasy one of those numbers is pass attempts, which have been in the bottom-5 in the league his first two seasons. Similar to Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, we’re not exactly expecting Wilson’s attempts to rise, but we’re hoping that he can have more success throwing to an upgraded receiving corps when he does go back to pass. Speaking of going back to pass, the hope is they addressed some OL issues by drafting T Justin Britt in the 2nd round. Some felt he was more of a 3rd-or 4th-round pick, but they did have a need at RT. The most intriguing player added in the draft for fantasy is obviously their first pick of the draft in the 2nd round in Paul Richardson. Richardson is built like a rail (thus the DeSean Jackson comparisons), but he has good long speed and tracks deeps balls pretty well and is capable of making some circus catches because of a pretty wide catch radius. He can be a weapon after the catch. This is a power running offense that takes deep shots in the passing game, and Wilson delivers a nice deep ball, so Richardson projects as their deep threat. They also added WR Kevin Norwood, who actually might be more pro-ready than Richardson and can play outside and inside. Seattle lost Golden Tate in free agency, but they did re-sign veteran Sidney Rice, and we’ll presumably see a lot more of Percy Harvin this year. Overall, Wilson’s supporting cast got better after the draft, so he’s still in the mix as a solid backup with some upside if he runs in a few more this year.
Matt Ryan (QB, Atl) – The Falcons had to add reinforcements on both the offensive and defensive line, and they did both with their first two picks. Obviously, our focus is on their first pick, sixth overall, OT Jake Matthews. Ryan was actually sacked only 44 times last year, tied for 20th in the league. But he was also hit a ton, and the OL was obviously a huge problem (credit should go to Ryan for not getting sacked 55-60 times). If veteran Sam Baker can somehow finally get and stay healthy, Ryan should have solid bookend tackles. Matthews could start out on the right side, but this polished player can play anywhere on the line (he can even long snap), so Ryan’s line was improved in the draft. They curiously didn’t draft a TE, but they did add a RB in Devonta Freeman, who could be an immediate upgrade over Jacquizz Rodgers and does improve their depth behind starter Steven Jackson. The NFL draft certainly wasn’t a bonanza for Ryan, but adding a plug-and-play tackle in Matthews was big.
Carson Palmer (QB, Ari) – The Cardinals may not have afforded Palmer with immediate help in the draft, but they did acquire more resources for him, and it’s certainly possible that 1-2 of them make an impact in 2014. I loved the addition of TE Troy Niklas in the second round, but he’s a raw prospect who will likely need at least one year to develop. Still, the mere presence of Niklas is a positive, especially since he’s considered an excellent blocker, and Bruce Arians indicated after the draft that he might actually play right away (Arians loves TEs who can block). The Cards otherwise focused on speed on offense, and that’s never a bad thing. They already have two big receivers on the outside, and in Pittsburgh State’s John Brown, Arians may have his next T.Y. Hilton. Like Hilton, Brown is very thin, but he’s also very explosive and is a major vertical threat (19.6 yards per catch last year). Arians loves those types of receivers. They also added in the 6th round WR Walt Powell out of Murray State, and while he ran poorly at the Combine, he can move pretty well (4.45 at his pro day). Brown and Powell will only be the 4th and 5th WRs at best, but I do like the speed angle (they also have Ted Ginn, added in free agency). As for their 4th-round selection of QB Logan Thomas, it’s not a problem for Palmer. Thomas is very intriguing due to his elite physical tools – Arians said he has the strongest arm coming out he’s seen in 10 years – but he’s a project who could need as many as two full seasons before he’s ready.
Eli Manning (QB, NYG) – The Giants picked up the top center in the draft in the 2nd round in Weston Richburg, so Eli’s line at least got some help this past weekend. They also used their first pick on wideout Odell Beckham, who will compete with Rueben Randle for the #2 WR role that the underwhelming Hakeem Nicks once occupied. Beckham is built like Victor Cruz, but Odell has more speed to play regularly on the outside, and he should help draw some attention away from Cruz, who will stick mainly in the slot. That factor alone will give him the edge over Randle, with whom the team isn’t exactly enamored at this point. The Giants are wiping the slate clean on offense and moving to a West Coast scheme under new OC Ben McAdoo, but they passed on a TE in the draft and are really thin there. We like Beckham a lot, and Cruz is still a quality player, plus Randle is hardly worthless. But it’s still hard to make a strong case for Manning for fantasy, especially since he’ll miss the off-season as he recovers from his injured ankle. Still, he’s obviously had a lot of success in his career, and this offense is more intriguing post-draft.
Michael Vick/Geno Smith (QBs, NYJ) – All of a sudden, the Jets have a viable passing game. After signing free agent Eric Decker to be a solid possession receiver and more, they got excellent value in the 2nd round and at 40 overall in TE Jace Amaro, who will finally give the Jets a “new-age” TE who can be moved all around and do a lot of damage from the slot. Paired with the underrated Jeff Cumberland, that’s a nice duo. They also added to a receiving corps that was perilously thin at times last year by selecting wideouts Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans, both in the 4th round. Saunders gives them another viable slot receiver behind Jeremy Kerley (whose contract is up after 2014), and Evans is a viable possession receiver with good hands. They also added the talented but terribly underachieving Jacoby Ford. At the very least, with Ford and Saunders, their return game should be improved. There are definitely enough weapons here – including, of course, RB Chris Johnson – for them to have immediate success on offense, so the question is who will start? According to Vick, it is Geno’s job to lose, but this competition will be decided in August.
Ryan Tannehill (QB, Mia) – Some felt the Dolphins reached a little for their 1st-and 3rd-round selections of two offensive lineman. Hey, we’ll take it and hope for the best. Top pick Ja'Wuan James will be expected to man the LT spot, while Billy Turner should settle in at G. If these two picks pan out right away and are at least serviceable, that’s a start for Tannehill. Miami also used the 63rd overall pick on a rock-solid wideout in Jarvis Landry, who will upgrade their #3 slot, which is a spot Tannehill has liked to throw to the last two seasons. They also used a 6th-round pick on WR Matt Hazel, who some people think has a chance to stick, and took yet another TE in Arthur Lynch in the 5th round. No one should be gushing about how great Miami’s off-season has gone, but things could be looking worse for Tannehill as he hopes to take another step forward in 2014. The addition of RB Knowshon Moreno and Landry immediately makes his supporting cast significantly better than last year.
Zac Stacy (RB, Stl) – I loved the addition of T Greg Robinson for Stacy. Robinson was considered the best run-blocking tackle in the draft, and teamed with veteran Jake Long, and with G Rodger Saffold back, the Ram OL should be better than it was last year, when Stacy was a very effective player. What I didn’t love was the addition of RB Tre Mason, who ran behind Robinson at Auburn. What’s a little disconcerting is that Mason is a more talented player than Stacy, but we at least know this: They are going to run the ball a ton this year. Stacy has a big advantage over Mason because Mason can’t block right now, so the Rams see him as a change-of-pace runner. The Mason addition also means that RBs Isiah Pead and Daryl Richardson are dead for fantasy other than maybe (if one of them is lucky) seeing some time on third down. Mason looks like a nice late-round flyer pick for sure, but I’m only going to downgrade Stacy slightly from where we had him going into the draft.
Steven Jackson (RB, Atl) – Their 4th-round selection of Devonta Freeman isn’t good news for Jacquizz Rodgers, but it’s premature to think it will mean very much for Jackson. Freeman comes from a pro-style system, and he didn’t rack up a ton of touches (451) in his career, so he’s got plenty left in the tank. But that also means that he’s never truly carried the load, so you have to think the club has every intention of rolling with the aged veteran as their lead back for one more year. Freeman, though, is at worst a solid handcuff for Jackson, whose body is clearly breaking down (it took him an eternity to return from that hamstring injury last year). Freeman doesn’t have breakaway speed for his size, but he makes up for it with his ability to pick chunks of yardage. Freeman actually has some Frank Gore in him because of his vision inside, and he makes defenders miss in the hole and refuses to go down on first contact, despite his size. Freeman is also one of the best pass protectors in this year’s draft class, so he could wind up playing a lot alongside Jackson.
Ben Tate (RB, Cle) – It’s a bit of a mixed bag for Tate coming out of draft weekend. The team drafted Johnny Manziel, who is a running QB and likely to help a RB in his backfield because of the threat he poses as a runner. They also didn’t draft one of the many solid complementary backs in this draft who could have worked his way into a very active role in the backfield with Tate, like Tre Mason or Devonta Freeman. On the downside, we have the very serious Josh Gordon news, and the fact that the team bafflingly didn’t draft a WR. So they could be painfully thin at WR this year. They also drafted a comparable tailback in Terrance West, whom they moved up in the 3rd round to select and could actually be a better lead back and power runner than Tate. Remember that Tate didn’t get paid too much (Only a 2-year, $6.2 million contract with only $2.5 million guaranteed). We’ll obviously have to see what the roles are for any Brown back not named Ben in the summer, but West is very comparable to Tate (both run high, both don’t make many people miss, have had ball-security issues), so it’s possible that West isn’t a factor this year and Tate carries the load along with a complementary guy like Dion Lewis or Edwin Baker. West doesn’t have a lot of pass drops on tape, but he mostly uses his body to catch passes, and West also needs to improve as a pass protector, so he might not be more than Tate’s backup. Still, Tate does have durability issues and plays banged up a lot, and we know Kyle Shanahan loves taking tough interior runners and turning them into studs in the zone blocking scheme, and West fits the bill very well.
and Bernard Pierce
(RBs, Bal) – The Ravens were expected to draft a RB, and with it being a deep class, we could have easily seen them select a prospect whose talents got him on the field this year, at Rice and/or Pierce’s expense. But while Coastal Carolina running back Lorenzo Taliaferro
is big, physical, and versatile, I don’t see him as a threat to either incumbent. Taliaferro can catch the ball and block, but he looks more like a FB than he does a tailback, and he lacks any semblance of quickness or speed to his game and loses momentum changing direction. He’s probably a bigger threat to Pierce, but Pierce clearly moves better than the rookie. This is pretty good news for Rice, who’s had his legal issue to deal with this off-season, but who, from all accounts, looks great this year, as he’s trimmed up in an effort to regain some of his burst. Rice is still going to be a trickier fantasy pick this year based on the evidence of a decline, but since he did average more per catch and carry than Pierce in 2013, and since they didn’t draft legit competition for him, things could be looking worse for Rice as we head into the summer. Keep in mind they’ve taken several steps to improve their horrendous OL from 2013.
Matt Forte (RB, Chi) – Forte’s obviously critical to the Bear offense and owns this backfield again in 2014, but with literally nothing behind him at RB heading into the draft, I was a slightly concerned that they might take one of the quality backs in this draft, someone who could have deserved more than a handful of snaps each week. But despite his major production in college, I don’t think Ka’Deem Carey is that guy. Carey benefitted from going against some light boxes in college, and has no breakaway speed and won’t get to the edge consistently in the NFL. Carey is ultimately an inside between-the-tackles power runner who isn’t quite big enough to be that in the NFL. He can catch the ball, but since he fails to stick out in any one area, he projects best as a change-of-pace back and not a future starter. That likely means Forte is set to handle a ton of work yet again in 2014.
Montee Ball (RB, Den) – Not that I was terribly worried about their drafting one of the 12-15 solid RBs in this draft (if not more), but we do know that HC John Fox has preferred a 2-man backfield approach in the past. He’ll certainly work another back into the mix, but at this point, there’s virtually nothing left on the street at the position. I’ve learned to never say never, and for all we know, an UDFA will enjoy a meteoric rise this summer. But we’re now through free agency (95% of it) and the draft, and Ball is still standing as a clear bell-cow in Denver.
Toby Gerhart (RB, Jac) – Gerhart is a versatile professional who’s clearly shown he can produce with volume, and he was paid well (compared to his 2014 FA counterparts) by the Jaguars in free agency. He’s the guy, but I have to be honest; based on the encouraging scouting reports we’ve received from two film gurus we respect, including our guy Greg Cosell, I’m not convinced Gerhart is better than Jacksonville’s 7th round pick Storm Davis. We were high on Davis entering the draft, but he slipped to the final round, and that’s not a great sign. It’s possible his fumbling problems caused his stock to drop, but we also know the RB position, in general, has been devalued in the draft. Gerhart’s the starter and should be afforded plenty of volume as a runner and a receiver, but keep an eye on Davis. If he has a good camp and it carries through into the regular season, and if Gerhart’s lack of burst becomes prohibitive, the rookie could start to emerge. Davis has excellent size and is a powerful, downhill runner between the tackles with a little wiggle in the hole and some receiving upside.
Alfred Morris (RB, Was) – Morris is the workhorse here, and that won’t change after the draft. They did add an interesting player in 6th rounder Lache Seastrunk, but he projects as a changeup runner. He’s an awful blocker, so it’s going to be tough for him to get on the field this year unless Jay Gruden really wants to utilize his speed and he progresses very well. Morris is underrated this year coming off a disappointing campaign that was a function of the team around him, not him.
Stevan Ridley (RB, NE) – New England’s 4th-round pick James White fumbled only two times on 754 career touches, so Bill Belichick should like him. He’s also excellent in pass protection. However, he doesn’t appear to be much of a threat to Ridley (unless, of course, you know…). White played in a committee most of his career at Wisconsin, and White’s game doesn’t really jump off the page. White looks to be a change-of-pace or complementary back only in the NFL, so Ridley should have an excellent opportunity to collect well over 200 carries again this year. We’ll see about White in the summer, but with a very deep group of RBs in this year’s draft, things could be looking worse for Ridley.
Andre Ellington and Jonathan Dwyer (RBs, Ari) – Not that I was concerned at all about Ellington’s value taking a hit in the draft, but this was a very deep RB group coming out, and the Cards bypassed them all, which is good news for both players. I’m conditioned to be concerned with Dwyer’s weight, work ethic, and roster spot, but unless they acquire a veteran free agent (there’s not much out there), it looks like there’s a decent role there for the taking for Dwyer as their bigger back or essentially the Rashard Mendenhall role. The alternative right now is Stepfan Taylor, who looks like a darn good football player but who just doesn’t move very well.
Latavius Murray (RB, Oak) – Murray is still a long shot, but it’s worth noting that head coach Dennis Allen is intrigued by him (I asked Allen about Murray at the Combine), and that RBs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew obviously have some availability issues. With more seasoning, Murray could be ready to contribute if called upon this year, and the Raiders bypassed the position in what was a deep RB class.
Golden Tate (WR, Det) – I’ve been very high on the addition of Tate in Detroit since it happened in March because he’s been underrated playing in a run-heavy offense in Seattle. He’s not a stud talent, but he’s very reliable with few drops, and despite his lack of top-end speed, he can sneak it downfield for the big play. However, I was concerned leading up to the draft that Detroit might pull the trigger on a trade that would enable them to land stud Sammy Watkins, or the massive Mike Evans. That would have obviously hurt Tate’s volume, but things couldn’t have gone much better for Tate. By drafting TE Eric Ebron, Detroit will not only count on Tate big-time at wide receiver, but they’ve also added a player (Ebron) who should command attention and actually help clear out some space for Tate. Tate plays with an edge, and he’s in a really good spot with an elite arm talent in Matt Stafford and two elite talents in Calvin Johnson and Ebron running routes on the field with him.
Vincent Brown (WR, SD) – Believe it or not, I was told by a Charger beat writer at the Combine that the Chargers haven’t yet given up on Brown, who had an ugly 2013 season and seemed lost on the field at times. Perhaps he had issues adjusting to the new offense and lost some confidence. With free agency and the draft in the books, the tip I got in February seems to be on-point, since the Chargers have added only 7th-round pick Tevin Reese out of Baylor at the position this year. Reese can fly, and Baylor wideouts have a great recent track record in the NFL, so he’s someone to watch. But unless veteran Malcom Floyd has a comeback and makes the club, it does look like Brown will get another chance in 2014 (not that anyone should draft him).
Rod Streator, Denarius Moore, and Andre Holmes (WRs, Oak) – This was a very deep WR class, yet the Raiders didn’t add a single wideout in the draft. They had other needs for sure, so that makes sense. We know free agent addition James Jones will start, and he should be their top target. But with no wideouts added in the draft, these guys have a chance to get significant snaps and targets. It’s just a question of the pecking order. I would think Moore will have an advantage, since he’s a different type of receiver than Streator, Holmes, and even Jones.
Donnie Avery and Weston Dressler (WRs, KC) – Hey, great news for Avery owners! He’s once again set as the starter opposite Dwayne Bowe, and I’m confident in saying that he can duplicate his 7.5 PPG in a PPR from last year (good for 79th at WR!). As for the former CFL standout Dressler, he’s actually intriguing because he might be set at the team’s top slot receiver. We’ll see what rookie RB/WR/KR De’Anthony Thomas can do in the preseason, but Dressler should be on the radar for those in PPR leagues.
(TE, Cle) – Well, at least his targets will be going up. Assuming Josh Gordon
is suspended for most or all of the 2014 season, Cameron’s going to be needed to step up. Most likely, Cleveland will be signing one of the few veteran wideout free agents on the street (Santonio Holmes
, Miles Austin
). But Cameron will likely be playing with a rookie QB in Johnny Manziel
, and while we’re down with the whole “Johnny Football” thing for fantasy, the fact is Manziel does leave plays on the field by either bailing from the pocket too quickly or simply not pulling the trigger on throws that are there. Manziel also didn’t throw to the TE in college, as his top TE in 2013 was Cameron Clear
, who caught 4 more passes last year from Manziel than I did. It’s one thing for Cameron to give it a go in 2014 with Manziel and Josh Gordon
on the field drawing plenty of attention; it’s quite another with Gordon out of the mix, which he probably will be. Because of that, the Browns should be running the
ball a TON this year. Cameron will have to be a focal point of the passing offense, but he’s a trickier fantasy prospect than he was before draft weekend. He’d probably be better off if Brian Hoyer
wins the starting QB job, which is at least possible, but not likely.
Dennis Pitta (TE, Bal) – The Ravens drafted TE Crockett Gillmore in the 3rd round, which was a little surprising. But it’s probably not going to be an issue for Pitta, who signed a 5-year contract extension this year. That’s because Gillmore looks like an offensive tackle in a TE’s body. He’s a tough football player who does the little things well and will help them at the point of attack, but he’s not the type of dynamic downfield receiver we look for in the fantasy world. Gillmore is a capable receiver, but the Ravens were likely thinking of their horrendous OL in 2013 when they made this pick, so I wouldn’t worry at all if I owned Pitta in a keeper or dynasty league.
Andrew Quarless (TE, GB) – The Packers did go out and draft a TE fairly high in Cal’s Richard Rodgers in the third round, so the Jermichael Finley era is over. We had Rogers to as our 6th best TE pre-draft, but keep in mind the depth at the position this year wasn’t that great and was very top-heavy. So I’m not exactly sure we’ll be excited about the “Rodgers to Rodgers” connection in 2014. Quarless is a possession TE with little upside, but he’s advanced in the system, and he should certainly be familiar with (Aaron) Rodgers, and those are two big factors in this offense. So unless the rookie Rodgers lights it up in training camp, it looks like those in deeper PPR leagues can get some use out of Quarless in 2014. Rodgers, for what it’s worth, is a good keeper or dynasty add this year.
Adrien Robinson and Kellen Davis (TE, NYG) – We’re used to the Giants having a productive TE, or at least a guy with a real chance to produce respectable totals for fantasy. But we may not see much of an impact at the position this year, even as they transition to a West Coast offense. Big Blue didn’t like this year’s TE draft class, so they passed on selecting one. They did sign USC's Xavier Grimble as an undrafted free agent. He’s a project and an underachiever, but he does have the speed, frame, and hands to be a factor in the NFL. He’s hardly a lock to make the team, though, so the former 4th-round pick (2012) Robinson has a chance. The Giants were fairly high on him back in 2012, but he’s struggled with injuries and has 0 career catches. They also have the veteran Davis, who is a good blocker and at least can be a red-zone theat. The team will likely add another veteran, and Dustin Keller is still on the street. And if Jermichael Finley (miraculously) plays football this year, the Giants will be interested because Finley played for new OC Ben McAdoo in Green Bay.
Michael Hoomanawanui (TE, NE) – I don’t know what the hell the Patriots are doing, but right now this guy is their starting TE, with former Packer disappointment and Jaguar castoff DJ Williams. Hoomanawanui can move well enough, but he simply doesn’t look like an impact player. They would be able to get away with him as their #2 TE if Rob Gronkowski is back, but we’re a long way from being there. Still, if you’re in a deep dynasty league or something like that, Hoomanawanui is on the radar.
Baltimore Ravens Defense (DT, Bal) – I was intrigued by all the quality players on this defense last year, but we didn’t push him too hard as a fantasy option because 2013 started a major reloading project on defense in Baltimore. They wound up ranking in the bottom half of the league for fantasy, but there’s even more intrigue on this side of the ball in 2014, since last year’s players had some time to play together, and since the Ravens went heavy on defense earlier in the draft. They added an immediate starting LB inside in #1 pick C.J. Mosley, who was the best player on their board when drafted. They then added reinforcements inside with NT Timmy Jernigan, who was considered a 1st-round talent but slipped to the 2nd. They used their next pick on S Terrence Brooks, a nasty player with speed. If Brooks develops quickly, the team can play him as SS and move Matt Elam to SS, where he should be more comfortable. The Raven fantasy defense may not make it into our top-12 this preseason, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on this unit because it’s loaded with talent.
Cam Newton (QB, Car) – I wrote several times last year that Newton, with inconsistent accuracy and ball location, really needed a big-bodied receiver with a wide catching radius, and that’s exactly what #1 pick Kelvin Benjamin is. Benjamin uses his body very well and dominated in the red zone last year and scored on an amazing 27.8% of his catches, so he’ll clearly help Cam and the team’s passing game. He has a rare size/athleticism combination that makes him very intriguing, but if we’re counting on him to be a difference-maker in year one, and it sure looks like we are, then color me skeptical. Benjamin was a redshirt sophomore last year, so he lacks experience. Benjamin had too many focus drops at the college level, usually trying to get up the field too quickly. But more important, he needs to refine his route running at the next level. Benjamin’s upside is through the roof down the road, but he is currently a little rough around the edges, and he has a little boom-or-bust in him. Wideout was a big need for the Panthers, but OT was probably a bigger need, believe it or not. Unfortunately, they didn’t draft a tackle, so Cam still has major OL issues (they did get a G in the 3rd). Based on all their losses in free agency, the draft was setting up to be a huge key for their 2014 hopes, and I can’t say I feel any better about Cam post-draft. In fact, for 2014, I actually I feel worse. I thought for sure they’d draft more than one higher-end WR in this deep class, but nope.
Jake Locker (QB, Ten) – Locker showed some real promise when he played in 2013, but the season still ended up ending in disappointing fashion. It’s a new coaching staff in 2014, so Locker’s progress last year won’t mean as much, and the organization passed on exercising the 5th year option on him last month, so he’s playing for his NFL life this year. He’s the starter, but if he struggles and if rookie 6th round pick Zach Mettenberger is healthy, Locker could be shown the bench as soon as this year. Locker is a very talented guy, but Mettenberger is a better passer, pure and simple. He was the best pocket passer in this draft with arguably the strongest arm. There are obviously some red flags, namely his knee but also a reported back issue and some off-the-field stuff. I’ve spoken to Mettenberger, and I know his agent, so I’m not very concerned about his character. I believe he can step in and play well as soon as this year, so if Locker gets hurt again or flops in the new offense, they could pull the plug in 2014.
Andy Dalton (QB, Cin) – No one is panicking and thinking Dalton is going to lose his job this year, save for a Matt Schaub-like meltdown in a contract year. But it’s worth noting that the Bengals have now used two 2nd round picks on a RB two years in a row, and a Round Two investment for that position is really like Round One investment even five years ago. By drafting Jeremy Hill, the message is pretty clear: They’re going to look to run the ball more than ever under new OC Hue Jackson, which will take the ball out of Dalton’s hands more than ever. And while a 5th-round pick on a QB isn’t the kiss of death for an incumbent, A.J. McCarron looks ready to make the transition to the NFL. He played at a high level in a pro-style offense against some of the best competition in college football. He throws with anticipation and throws receivers open, and his accuracy is excellent at the intermediate level. He doesn’t have a ton of zip and power on his throws, but his arm strength is better than Dalton’s was coming out of TCU. McCarron does have some shaky mechanics, which hurts his deep ball, accuracy, and velocity, so he does have some limitations as a passer, including a long release (which he can clean up). He looks like the type of QB who could thrive in a good system with great talent around him. If he’s on a team with a good running game and defense, he can probably win in the NFL – and that’s exactly what he has in Cincy (including a stud WR and some other really receivers). Again, it would be a shock if Dalton got benched at any time in 2014, but he officially has some legit competition.
Matt Schaub (QB, Oak) – We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again: A team picks up a stopgap QB who will presumably be a bridge to the future for a full season – and then the future begins earlier than expected with a young player getting on the field. The Raiders used a 2nd-round pick (4 picks from the 1st round) on Derek Carr, who might have been the best natural thrower in this draft. Of course, Carr has taken only a handful of snaps from under center in the last two years. He also doesn’t react well to pressure, and the Raider OL is perennially bad. The Raiders have tried to address the line this year, but they lost their star LT in free agency, and the OL should once again be shaky. This is not the stuff of fantasy legend in for 2014.
Frank Gore and Marcus Lattimore (RBs, SF) – The addition of RB Carlos Hyde in the 2nd round of the draft hurts both Gore for 2014, and also Lattimore, since the expectation was that Lattimore would be eased into the offense by spelling Gore from time to time, with Kendall Hunter also in the mix as a changeup runner. Now we’re wondering how they’ll divvy up the carries in one of the more crowded backfields I’ve ever seen (I’m not even including LaMichael James, who’ll likely be cut loose). What makes this tricky is the 49ers claim that Hyde was simply the best player available on their board, but you have to wonder if they still have serious concerns about Lattimore’s health (they say no). Gore himself told me last year that the coaches are careful not to overexpose him during the season, so while he’ll remain the starter, you have to think his carries will be reduced in 2014 as they aim to keep him fresh for the playoffs. As for Lattimore, we’ll just have to see. At his best, he’s probably better than Hyde, but he hasn’t been at his best for two years, and he might never be the same player coming off two serious knee injuries. Hyde is no slouch, either. In fact, he compares favorably to Gore. Ironically, I asked Hyde at the Combine about the possibility of his not being afforded volume if he lands on a team with an established starter in 2014, and he said he’d simply sit back and learn from that veteran. He gets a good one to learn from and to further pattern his game after in Gore, but his fantasy value for this year and even future years with Lattimore in the mix, isn’t exactly clear. But I do really like Hyde as a player and think, just like Eddie Lacy last year, teams will regret passing on him (especially the Titans).
Rashad Jennings and David Wilson (RBs, NYG) – Jennings is a Tom Coughlin-type back, but so is 4th-round pick Andre Williams, who like Jennings is an old-school and classic power runner. Williams is mature, reliable, and very intelligent, and the Giants had a 2nd-round grade on him. The advantage Jennings has over Williams is his versatility, since Williams is strictly a 1st- and 2nd-down back. Jennings will still be the starter, but Williams is immediately the #2 and handcuff, and keep in mind Jennings has had several injury issues in his career. As for Wilson, it’s clear that the Giants continue to protect themselves from relying too heavily on him. It’s fairly clear now that he’ll be a complementary back for the Giants, at best. Granted, at his best Wilson can be a devastating changeup player, but we’ve yet to see him do much in the passing game, so he won’t likely get more than 10-12 touches a game if he plays and if Jennings/Williams are healthy.
Shonn Greene (RB, Ten) – Apparently, the Titans passed on Carlos Hyde because he’s too similar of a player as Greene, which seems pretty short-sighted. Greene could be out of the league in 1-2 years, and the Titans could then be left with a nice complementary back in Bishop Sankey – who they reached for in the 2nd round and took as the first back off the board. I respect Sankey as a solid prospect, and he seemed like a great kid in an interview I did with him, but we don’t really see him as a volume player, and he’s not a special mover like Gio Bernard. It’s possible the Titans don’t plan on giving him a ton of touches and will plan on a fairly large role for the more powerful Greene (they also have Dexter McCluster now in the mix in this backfield). The good news for Sankey, and for that matter Greene, is that the OL has been really beefed up the last two years and it could be one of the best run-blocking units in the league this year. They could still afford Greene 10-12 carries a game including most of the goal line work. That’s assuming Greene is healthy, as he underwent knee surgery and early May (he’s had chronic knee problems dating back to college but has been pretty durable).
Jonathan Stewart (RB, Car) – Not that anyone is expecting Stewart to stay healthy this year, and his contract is guaranteed for 2014 so he won’t likely get released, but RB wasn’t really viewed as a key need, yet they still grabbed a bigger back in Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney. Gaffney is a good athlete (drafted in MLB) and has size, (straight-line) speed, and versatility to stick here. Gaffney was only a 6th round pick, so he may not factor into Stewart’s season or role this year, but he could down the road.
Kenny Stills (WR, NO) – I loved Stills this year before the draft, and I still love him – just a little less. There’s plenty of production to go around here, and their WRs corps is still a little shaky overall, but #1 pick Brandin Cooks will obviously play a lot as a rookie, and that could limit Stills’ upside. To be clear, I was actually thinking top-25 for Stills before the draft, so again: we’re still going to be high on Stills (top-40) and we’re still very encouraged by his stats (catch rate, yards-per-target, etc.) and the trust QB Drew Brees (rightfully) showed in Stills.
Cecil Shorts (WR, Jac) – Back in 2012, I didn’t really buy into Shorts’ 17.8 YPC that year because it’s obvious that he’s not a burner and is much more of a possession guy. Not to take anything away from Shorts, though, because he’s done a very good job as their go-to guy the last two seasons when he’s been on the field. He clicks pretty well with QB Chad Henne, but some of his production was a product of volume. They simply didn’t have much else for most of the 23 games the last two seasons. However, they have options now after drafting WRs Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson in the 2nd round. Shorts probably won’t lose his starting job, but he’s in a contract year, and those two rookies project as their #1 and #2/possession receivers, which puts Shorts’ long-term role here in serious question. The team will likely open the season with Henne as the starter, but he’s hardly a world-beater, and it’s been over a decade since a QB drafted as high as Blake Bortles didn’t play his rookie year. Bortles is physically gifted, but it’s a major leap of faith to expect immediate success for Bortles if he plays as a rookie. Still, if they’re out of the playoffs later in the season, it would make sense to play all three of these rookies to prepare for 2015, so Shorts looks like a much shakier fantasy pick this year compared to last.
Markus Wheaton (WR, Pit) – I’ve been pumping Wheaton up since last year, and I’m certainly not giving up on him after the team used a 4th-round pick on the incredibly appealing Martavis Bryant. The Steelers coveted his size and his downfield ability, and there’s no question Bryant has a ton of upside. The Steelers may have designs on starting him, but I’ll have to believe that when I see it because Bryant is a bit raw as a one-year wonder guy, his hands are shaky, and he plays a little soft for his size. Wheaton’s rookie season was a lost campaign, but he did at least get that under his belt, and he’s very talented. But even if Bryant doesn’t officially start over Wheaton, Bryant could still make an impact and seriously chip away at Wheaton’s upside. Like they did last year with Jerricho Cotchery, they could certainly have a lot of success throwing the ball to Bryant as their #3 WR, especially in the red zone. Wheaton can potentially be a great deep threat himself, but there are questions about his ability to effectively track down the deep ball, something Bryant did well at Clemson last year. So while I’m not ready to hand the starting job over to Bryant, his addition is still a bit of a buzz kill for Wheaton.
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