It’s not the offseason just yet! Each week during the playoffs, we are going to break down some Fantasy performances in all of the big January matchups. Does it project to 2014 success? We shall see…
CHIEFS vs. COLTS
Alex Smith – Smith’s 378-yard, four touchdown performance was his best of the entire season, even more impressive considering how pedestrian his effort was against the Colts just two weeks earlier. On the year (we’re not counting Week 17), Smith finished in the Top 12, ahead of names like Brady, Ryan, Kaepernick and Foles – something overlooked right until the end.
It’s obvious that Andy Reid’s offense will be built around All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles in the years ahead, but Smith has proven to be a worthy Fantasy QB for 2014. We would expect players like Tom Brady and Matt Ryan to pass him again next season, but considering the injury bug that creeps up each year, he might be the top backup in most 12-team leagues and a lock to be a starter in two-QB leagues.
Knile Davis – Against Indy, Davis showed the ability that had him pegged as a high-round pick at one point during his Arkansas career. Unfortunately, he also displayed the two red flags that bumped him all the way down to the end of the third round – injuries and fumbles. Still, we pegged Davis as a handcuff for Jamaal Charles in 2013, and that analysis remains the same heading into 2014, assuming he heals well from his broken leg. He is a must-own handcuff in every format.
Dwayne Bowe – D-Bowe frustrated Fantasy owners all year, finishing outside of the Top 40 and never cracking 70 yards. His 150-yard explosion belies his talent more than his consistency. Considering the investment Kansas City has made in him, we expect to see a better 2014, but he can’t be considered a WR1 anymore.
Andrew Luck – Why do so many keep doubting Luck and the Colts? We just don’t see the appropriate amount of love shown to the superstar QB. He is a Top-5 Fantasy QB for 2014, and he should be the first QB off the board in dynasty league formats.
T.Y. Hilton – The Chiefs defensive failures were Hilton’s gain, as he exploded on them for over 40 Fantasy points in most formats. Hilton was a Top 20 player at his position, although, uneven throughout the year. We think it’s worth living through some down weeks in 2014 with a player of this ability playing with Luck. Even if WR Reggie Wayne comes back as good as new, Hilton’s role will increase for 2014. At only 24 years old, he is a player to target for long-term keeper success, especially in yardage bonus leagues.
SAINTS vs. EAGLES
Riley Cooper – In his fourth year in the NFL, Riley Cooper finally returned some real value for Fantasy owners scoring eight T Ds on his way to career highs in all categories. Going for six catches and a TD against the Saints showed that the Eagles are willing to rely on Cooper in big spots. Cooper finds himself heading to free agency along with teammate WR Jeremy Maclin so at least one of them is unlikely to be back in Philly. Cooper’s landing spot will determine exactly how he is valued in 2014; he uses his size well around the end zone but he is not a game breaker that will dominate in any offense.
Zach Ertz – Longtime veteran TE Brent Celek split the workload right down the middle with rookie Ertz this season. The tight end of the future for the Eagles came along well in his rookie season, even snagging a TD in the playoff loss to New Orleans. Ertz’ value is likely to be better long-term in this offense as opposed to him bursting into the Top 5 next season but we feel he will make enough of a leap to consider him an early sleeper for 2014.
Mark Ingram – So, we go through 16 weeks of the regular season and Mark Ingram produces exactly ONE double-digit performance. ONE! Then, as his number gets called in January, he plays a crucial role in sending the Eagles to golf courses in far better weather than Philadelphia (maybe that’s a positive for them…). Ingram will remain one of the most head-scratching talents in the league – buried in a running back by committee where only injuries to others have allowed him to get showcased. You can never have enough running backs but Ingram will be better off on another team where his workload will be more consistent than it is in New Orleans.
Kenny Stills – Stills didn’t do much against Philly on Saturday, but he is the type of home run hitter who could be a Fantasy darling for years to come. Stills is a player that could stretch the field for QB Drew Brees and provide some explosiveness on the outside. While there may be some boom-or-bust risk, he could turn your mid-round pick into double-digit touchdowns in 2014. Stills’ value over the average player at the position was 45 percent, tops in the entire league amongst 90 ranked players.
CHARGERS vs. BENGALS
Ladarius Green – People will be looking for Green to take over for Antonio Gates, who is on the way out in the next year or two, but that is premature; he hasn’t proven THAT kind of ability just yet. Green will play a complimentary role; but he will be no better than fifth in targets in San Diego’s passing offense. The key for Green is end zone touches. At 6’ 6”, he can out-position just about anyone who will attempt to cover him. His 2014 season may have a boom-or-bust feel to it but he is absolutely worth stashing in deep keeper or dynasty leagues. Plus, you can’t rule out a chance for him to work his way in at wideout to create mismatches on opposing defenders.
Philip Rivers – You can’t look too much at Sunday’s 12-of-16 for 128 yards performance to judge Phil Rivers – unless you’re looking for his will and ability to win. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will be getting a head coach job in the next couple of weeks, and you need to look no further than the resurgence of his quarterback to understand why that will happen. The 2011 and 2012 seasons were miserable for Rivers, who turned the ball over nearly 50 times. Now, he sits among the Top 5 Fantasy QBs this season, providing ridiculous value to any who drafted him. Consider him a Top 10 QB again in 2014, as he was from 2008-2010 and again this year.
Andy Dalton – When you’re a Fantasy football writer/broadcaster and you pick the Bengals to go to the Super Bowl and defend Andy Dalton before their playoff run and Sunday happens…it’s best to keep it short and sweet. And clinical:
- Dalton finished in the Top 5 QBs in Fantasy football in 2013
- The Bengals have a ton of weapons
- Dalton’s turnovers are inexcusable but he is a starting QB in a 10-team league; there are too many opportunities to pass up his value
Gio Bernard – Bernard put up some strong numbers with a seven-catch, 118-yard performance against San Diego but his lost fumble is all that will be remembered, as it was the key play that changed the momentum in the Chargers’ win in Cincy. He provided great ROI this year and was an ideal complement to BenJarvius Green-Ellis in the Bengals’ backfield. Bernard can be a legitimate number one back in Fantasy leagues, especially in PPR formats, and we suggest hanging onto him no matter the price in keeper leagues. That is, assuming he can shake off the memory of that fumble.
49ers vs. PACKERS
Michael Crabtree – If you were patient enough to keep Michael Crabtree on your roster, he rewarded you with two 15-point performances for your Fantasy team late in the year, and might have even helped you win a title. This past week against the Pack, he showed that he is one of the top players at his position in the NFL. The Niners are committed to running the ball, but the dynamic playmaking ability of Crabtree adds a big element to their passing attack. It was obvious in the 2012 playoffs that he and Colin Kaepernick were in sync on their way to the Super Bowl. His targets will be down versus his peers who play in full throttle aerial offenses but, barring another injury, he has the value of a number one WR for the 2014 season. His keeper value remains among the Top 8-10 at WR going into next year.
Colin Kaepernick – Much like Ben Roethlisberger, “Kaep” will likely always be a better real life QB than Fantasy QB. His ability to make big plays in clutch scenarios is what has earned him the starting job on a Super Bowl-contending franchise. But, the reality is that the Niners threw the ball less than any team in the league and his only 300-yard game of the Fantasy season was Week 1. His running ability allowed him to close out the season strong and creep into the Top 12 QBs but, as presently constituted, the Niners offense will play it close to the vest to win games. There just aren’t enough opportunities there yet for him to explode into a Top 5 QB in 2014.
Randall Cobb – Randall Cobb’s two targets were frustrating for those of you that used him in playoff formats this past week but chalk that up to the Niners doing a great job using nickel coverage all day on him. Cobb’s 2013 season was robbed by a broken leg and he still managed to come back in time to catch two clutch scores against the Bears in the Pack’s Week 17 elimination game. We consider the 23-year-old Cobb to be among the elite number one Fantasy wide receivers going into 2014, and would easily put him in the Top 10 in keeper formats.
James Jones – It seems as if Jones’ Packers career went out with a two-catch, 20-yard whimper. Jones’ Fantasy production dropped off significantly in 2014, solely due to his touchdown decrease (14 TDs down to 3). The real issue for Jones is the sheer number of free agents that the Packers need to deal with this offseason, DT B.J. Raji and C Evan Dietrich-Smith among them. Do not expect to see him in a Packers uniform in 2014, and his projections will vary based on his landing spot.