We’re midway into the NFL preseason, and that means Fantasy Football drafts are in full swing. NFL and Fantasy fans alike are drooling with anticipation for the first official snap of the 2014 season. Fans get to see their teams begin with a clean slate in their quest to hold aloft a Lombardi Trophy, signifying a Super Bowl Championship. Fantasy players also get that same clean slate in their quest for bragging rights, or perhaps a little jingle in their pockets, as they try to guide their Fantasy Football teams to a league Championship.
For the Fantasy players, now is the prime time for drafting and the crucial period for ensuring your knowledge is top notch. Week 3 of the preseason provides great insight into teams’ plans, but we already know enough to say which players are good or poor bets. In fact, preseason performances are too often overrated – Zach Sudfeld anyone? We’ll kick things off (pun intended) with an offensive outlook, followed by defenses, special teams and a preseason wrap-up next week. Once the regular season arrives, we’ll have weekly outlooks every Wednesday.
No matter how you cut it, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are in their own class. Brees has a chance to unseat Manning as the top quarterback, but it’s hard to argue against the guy who just destroyed records and finished nearly 60 whopping points ahead of Brees. The main argument here is that the Saints schedule is much easier than the Broncos. Don’t get sucked into the strength of schedule analysis, though. The Lions supposedly had the second toughest schedule last year but actually finished with the third easiest. Conversely, the Texans had the sixth easiest before the season but finished with the second toughest. In fact, the last defense to rank as the top unit in back-to-back seasons was the 1993-94 Steelers. Not taking anything away from the amazing Brees here, but it’s hard to argue against Manning.
Matthew Stafford sits in a tier of his own and has a chance to post his best season since a 41-touchdown campaign in 2011. There is a big collection of options in the third tier, and there would be no surprise for each finishing as QB5 or way down at QB13. Andrew Luck is the safest with a high ceiling, but that offensive line looks to be trouble. Nick Foles won’t be that amazing again, but he should post great numbers if Jeremy Maclin is 100 percent and Riley Cooper isn’t a one-year flash. The Panthers receiving corps is pitiful. Too often, people spout hyperbole when some NCAA teams have equitable talent, which is never true or close to it. However… in this case, there are some college teams that actually rival the Panthers in wide receiver talent. Cam Newton’s rushing will keep him in the QB1 mix, though. Matt Ryan will be passing aplenty this year, and the Falcons defense should ensure they’ll be behind often. Robert Griffin III is an injury waiting to happen, but few quarterbacks have more upside. Don’t overlook Tom Brady with Rob Gronkowski back, as the duo’s numbers are impressive. Don’t dismiss Tony Romo either. Romo is a lock for 4,000-plus yards and 30-plus touchdowns with that offense… and defense. You think the Falcons are terrible? The Cowboys defense doesn’t even warrant a mention.
If you miss on one of the big three, or even Stafford, just wait. The position is insanely deep this year. You are better off grabbing two quarterbacks, one from the third tier and one from the fourth, than reaching for Foles, Ryan, etc. Instead, load up on running backs and wide receivers in those draft rounds.
That fourth tier includes Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Kaep brings the rushing potential but is rather inconsistent; however, look out if he takes a step forward in the passing game. With Cutler, all that matters is games played. If you could guarantee Cutler playing 16 games, I’d be all in, as Cutler would near Top Five status with those weapons. Wilson is admirably consistent but has few top-notch scorers. Rivers bounced back last season but brings questions with coaching changes, and Big Ben was actually a Top Seven quarterback from Weeks 9-16 last year.
Some sleepers to watch include Eli Manning, if the Giants wake up under Ben McAdoo and his offense. Johnny Manziel, when he plays, will near QB1 status based on his rushing upside alone. Look at what RGIII did in his rookie year with Kyle Shanahan! And don’t forget that Sam Bradford was on a nice roll pre-injury last year.
As with the quarterbacks, there is a clear top tier. This time, we have four instead of three, but there is no arguing the quartet. Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte are simply elite. Ugh. Sorry for that; I do hate that word… elite… so overused and vague in meaning. The order of the four may change a bit in non-PPR versus PPR leagues, but there is no denying the choices.
Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball, DeMarco Murray and Marshawn Lynch comprise the next group. Even with Rodgers stealing a few rushing touchdowns, Lacy is a premiere Fantasy running back. I love Ball this year. Based solely on talent, Ball was my second-rated rookie running back last year only behind Christine Michael. Now, the opportunity is here, and if Knowshon Moreno could put up those numbers, Ball can easily match and eclipse them.
We start to see question marks before we even get out of the Top 10 running backs. Le’Veon Bell admits his own concern over LeGarrette Blount stealing goal line opportunities, Alfred Morris can’t catch a lick, Jeremy Hill will vulture plenty from Gio Bernard and Arian Foster is Grant Hill and Nomar Garciaparra rolled into one.
Even with his own vulture concerns involving Andre Williams, Rashad Jennings is one of my favorite RB2s. The yardage and catches will offset the lost touchdowns. All Jennings needs is a full season to reach the Top 15. Toby Gerhart is another great RB2 value, as he will near 300 touches with the Jaguars feeding him buffet style. Both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell will have RB2 value come season’s end, but you will be frustrated with their consistency. Both have more value in PPR leagues. Bishop Sankey is the top rookie running back, but that’s based solely on opportunity. He struggles to break through contact and has shown some blocking issues. Take advantage of the Ben Tate injury concerns. Tate does make Foster look healthy, but he is the best option for the Browns, and will be a rock-solid RB2 if he makes it through 16 games. I know, I know.
Let’s talk about my favorite underrated running back, and that’s Pierre Thomas. Not only did Thomas check in as RB23 in non-PPR leagues last year, he was the 16th best RB in PPR leagues! Darren Sproles is gone, and while I like Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson as high-upside RB4 picks, Thomas is one of the best values with an ADP of RB34 on NFL.com… behind Sproles!
Some good players to gamble on include Devonta Freeman, as Steve Jackson is a near guarantee to miss time. For Tate owners, or those just wanting the upside for the potential injury to Tate, Terrance West is a great grab. Carlos Hyde continues to impress me, and Frank Gore is around 67 years old I think. If I’m taking an Oakland running back, give me the camp battle loser because it’s likely that both get hurt, but either way, the backup (looking like Darren McFadden will back up Maurice Jones-Drew) will start at some point and bring better draft return. Michael, Lance Dunbar, Blount, Tre Mason – if he learns to block… at all – James White and Bobby Rainey are all nice late-round fliers.
Don’t let anyone kid you; Calvin Johnson is the best option at receiver. The next six receivers are all terrific and similar to the quarterback and running back situations in that they’re interchangeable. By now, we all know what Roddy White can do; he deserves mention in the low-end WR1 range. Last season’s injury was his first major one, and if you’ve seen Hard Knocks, the man is putting on a show. Michael Floyd has a real chance to surpass Larry Fitzgerald this year, while Percy Harvin has WR1 potential with the Michael Vick-Foster-Tate injury-filled body.
Marques Colston is a borderline WR2 or high-end WR3, but that’s not because of his talent or potential. Colston is under the injury-risk umbrella, but if he can make it through a full 16 games, you know Brees is going to connect with him more than enough to cement his WR2 status.
The concerns over Eric Decker going from Manning to Geno Smith are valid, but it’s not enough to knock him from WR3 value. He will see around 130 targets. The Jets have no other choice really. The hottest receiver name of the offseason is Brandin Cooks, and for good reason. Cooks has loads of talent, and what better offense to put him in than the Saints’? Just don’t let the hype make you forget about the man starting alongside Colston, Kenny Stills. Entering his second season, Stills flashed plenty of promise as a rookie and is starting to be the better value given his WR58 ADP, whereas Cooks is all the way up at WR42. Brees will have plenty of targets to spread the offense among, which might be the only thing impeding their value in Fantasy this season.
With Cecil Shorts back to health, there is great mid-to-late round value given the number of targets and receptions he’ll see. Kenny Britt is healthy – wait, what, he was on the sideline last preseason game? If that’s not the story of his career. If, and that’s the biggest “if” in football, Britt can play 16 games there is real sleeper potential here, as talent has never been an issue. Josh Gordon becomes a worthy gamble for me in the WR5 range, but I’m not going to risk a higher pick with the possibility of a 16-game suspension looming.
The high-upside late fliers at receiver include Tavon Austin (again, Britt and healthy don’t mix); Jordan Matthews, who oozes talent and an envious size/speed combo; Aaron Dobson if he can get back on the field, as the Patriots want him to become a main option in that offense, and Robert Woods. There were times last year when Woods looked quite good, even with the loose definition of “quarterback play” that we saw in Buffalo last year. Sammy Watkins is going to draw the majority of the attention from defenses, and Woods is a quality talent. One last receiver gem, especially if he has running back eligibility, is Dexter McCluster. Ken Whisenhunt loves passing to backs, and McCluster is seeing plenty of use already. At worst, Dex will get you 4-5 Fantasy Points per week in a PPR league.
It starts and ends with Jimmy Graham, and rightfully so. Graham has finished second, first and first among tight ends since his rookie season, and there is no stopping him from threepeating as the tight end champ. Just stop dunking the ball Jimmy! That’s really going to hurt when you score 15-plus touchdowns again.
There is a wide open debate for the No. 2 spot behind Graham, and it’s only because we don’t know if Rob Gronkowski will play 16 games. If he does, Gronk is the only tight end that can near Graham’s output, but Julius Thomas has an argument for TE2 given his offense and lack of injury concerns.
Jordan Cameron will be a big part of the Browns offense again, after all, have you seen their remaining receivers if Gordon is suspended for the year? Greg Olsen will be Newton’s top target, with Kelvin Benjamin – a rookie – looking to be the top receiver. Enjoy the PPR goodness from Olsen. Jason Witten can easily bounce back to his better years given how often the Cowboys will be passing. Joe Flacco loves Dennis Pitta, and Pitta is a great value given his TE1 upside.
Both Kyle Rudolph and Zach Ertz present potential galore. Rudolph now has the genius tight end creator in Norv Turner, and Ertz is on breakout alert with a chance for 60-plus catches, but plenty of touchdown opportunities either way. Charles Clay finished as TE7 and TE8 in non-PPR and PPR leagues, respectively. Where’s the love, guys? On the west coast, Ladarius Green should supplant the well-seasoned Antonio Gates. Watch for Tyler Eifert to take a step forward in year two, as the Bengals need someone to catch passes besides A.J. Green, especially with sleeper Marvin Jones out for several weeks. Lastly, don’t overdraft Eric Ebron. Rookie tight ends rarely make a Fantasy impact – and I mean just one in the last decade has finished as a TE1 – and Ebron is on a roster deep with tight ends.
|Expert||Mine||Scott Engel||Adam Ronis|
|QB||Tony Romo||Jay Cutler||Jay Cutler|
|RB||Toby Gerhart||Devonta Freeman||Fred Jackson|
|WR||Golden Tate||Markus Wheaton||Justin Hunter|
|TE||Dennis Pitta||Dwayne Allen||Travis Kelce|
|K||Dan Bailey||Shaun Suisham||Greg Zuerlein|
|Expert||Nando Di Fino||Pat Mayo||Bobby McMann|
|QB||Eli Manning||Jay Cutler||Ben Roethlisberger|
|RB||Jonathan Stewart||Fred Jackson||Joique Bell|
|WR||Rod Streater||Colston||Eric Decker|
|TE||Coby Fleener||Martellus Bennett||Charles Clay|
|K||Justin Tucker||Sebastian Janikowski||Robbie Gould|