The 2014 Rankings Breakdown
We've released our initial rankings for the 2014 fantasy football season, and as usual they require some explanation. Our process is arduous and time tested, and while it provides a good starting point, these rankings can and will change throughout the spring and summer as injuries occur, camp battles develop and rookies (or other young players) emerge.
I’m going to go through the rankings and explain my thoughts about each position as a whole. I’ll also discuss why a few specific players are ranked where they are (relative to the General Consensus, or GC, and/or his ADP in 12-team formats). When discussing a specific player, I may put his difference ranking in parenthesis to illustrate how high (or low) he is relative to the GC column. A player with a (+3) means that we’re three spots higher on him than the consensus.
As usual, let’s start with the…
The quarterback position has been trending deeper and deeper over the last several years and the 2014 season is shaping up to be one of the deepest groups ever. Take a look at where Philip Rivers (#15) and Andy Dalton (#17) are ranked. Last season, they finished #5 and #4, respectively.
After Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, there is a big group of 14 or so passers who could each finish with top 10 numbers. For this reason, I’m not going to be in any rush to get a quarterback on draft day. According to our ADP data, Russell Wilson (+6) is the #13 passer off the board in the late 8th round. He’s a 25 year-old quarterback coming off of a Super Bowl win, and has finished in the top 10 in each of his first two seasons in the league. What’s not to like? Sure, he plays for a run-oriented team, but that hasn’t hurt him so far. I’d be ecstatic to add him to my roster in the 8th or 9th round after loading up on other positions.
If Wilson goes earlier, then Colin Kaepernick (+3) might slip. He averaged 19.3 fantasy points in his final eight games, including the playoffs. I’m pointing to that stretch because that’s when Michael Crabtree returned to the lineup. The 49ers throw the ball more when Crabtree is playing. Plus, Kaepernick has Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and the newly acquired Stevie Johnson at his disposal.
It looks like I’m higher on Nick Foles (+4) than most. Starting with Week 6, Foles averaged 23.1 FP in his final 11 games, including a playoff game against the Saints. That average would have put him 2nd in total points (behind Peyton Manning) if extrapolated over a full season. His detractors point to the loss of DeSean Jackson, but with the return of Jeremy Maclin, the addition of both Darren Sproles and Jordan Matthews, and the probable emergence of Zach Ertz, I don’t think Foles will be hurting for weapons in the passing game. There is the possibility that defensive coordinators will be better prepared for Chip Kelly’s unusual offense, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take if Foles is around in the 6th round.
Now for a few players that are relatively low in the rankings. It’s not that I don’t like Matt Ryan (-3), Robert Griffin III (-5), Tony Romo (-2) or Tom Brady (-2) – I just prefer Wilson, Kaepernick and Foles at this point in the offseason. Ryan should bounce back with a healthy Julio Jones in the lineup, but the loss of his safety blanket, Tony Gonzalez, may sting. RG3 should also return to QB1 form, but I’m a tad worried about the new system and his lackluster play in 2013. Is his knee truly 100 percent? How much will new HC Jay Gruden let him run? He should benefit from the arrival of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, who along with Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, form one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the league.
Tom Brady’s current ranking is heavily influenced by my assumption that Rob Gronkowski misses four games due to his ACL recovery or some other ailment. Brady finished as the #15 QB in 2013 and had the #19 per game average. He’s not the same fantasy weapon when he doesn’t have his big tight end in the lineup. The fantasy community largely assumes that Gronk will be ready for Week 1, but he waited until January to have his torn ACL repaired, and other than the occasional freak (Adrian Peterson), it usually takes a full year to completely recover.
I have Romo at #12, which is a bit low versus the GC (#10) but right on his ADP. I like his chances in a Scott Linehan-led offense provided the back holds up.
Once again, streaming quarterbacks will be a solid option for fantasy owners who want to wait on the position on draft day. They could pick someone like Philip Rivers or Jay Cutler in the 10th round and see how things go. Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Ryan Tannehill, Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Teddy Bridgewater (if he wins the starting job) all jump out as legit streaming options when they have good matchups. (If Cutler can stay healthy, he’ll be a great value in the 10th round with the way Marc Trestman likes to throw the ball.)
The flip side is that as more and more owners wait on the position, there is a point when it makes sense to draft a QB relatively early. In a 2013 expert league, I nabbed Peyton Manning with the 6.11 pick and he nearly carried me to a league title even though I took Doug Martin (doh!) and David Wilson (grr.) with two of my first three picks.
Things are looking a bit deeper at running back heading into the summer. Toby Gerhart (+1), Rashad Jennings (+4) and Ben Tate (+4) are (talented) career backups who are getting a shot to start with new teams and all three look like solid RB2 options at this point in the offseason. Andre Ellington (+3) may not get much of the goal line work in Arizona, but he’ll see plenty of touches given his ability as a receiver. (HC Bruce Arians recently predicted 25-30 touches per game, which is ridiculous, but it’s still good to hear.)
Bishop Sankey (+12) looks like the top rookie runner, and I apparently like him more than most. I don’t see Shonn Greene, who is coming off of knee surgery, putting up much of a fight. Sankey has the talent to be a dual threat out of the Tennesee backfield. For more on Sankey’s potential production, see The Rookie Rundown.
Moving up the ranks, the one player I seem to be particularly high on is Montee Ball (+5). Put it this way – Knowshon Moreno finished as the #5 RB last year and Ball is the better player. I don’t expect he’ll get as many receptions, but Ball is a capable receiver and is a near shoo-in to find the endzone at least 10 times given the potency of the Denver offense.
I’m clearly low on Reggie Bush (-6), C.J. Spiller (-9) and Trent Richardson (-14). I’m worried that new OC Joe Lombardi will scale back Bush’s carries given the way the Saints used him while both Bush and Lombardi were both in New Orleans. The Lions extended Joique Bell’s contract, so his role may grow a bit. (Mikel Leshoure is also lurking in the shadows.) Bush is still a great option in PPR, but he looks like a middling RB2 in standard formats.
Spiller should produce if healthy, but I don’t trust that he’s going to get a big workload with the ageless Fred Jackson returning and Bryce Brown joining the team. Spiller will be a free agent at the end of the season, which helps, though I don’t have the confidence that the Bills coaching staff knows how to use him. His 3rd round ADP is too pricey for me, but I’d consider him in the 4th or 5th depending on the situation.
One PPR note: Pierre Thomas once again looks like a tremendous value in the middle rounds. He has an 8th round ADP and with Darren Sproles gone, I think Thomas will see 70+ catches for the second straight season. Sure, his carries are threatened by Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, but neither player is the receiver that Thomas is.
Looking at the position strategically, I wouldn’t have a problem going WR and TE early and look to draft three players like Ellington, Sankey, Ryan Mathews, Gerhart, Jennings, Bell, Tate or Thomas in the next few rounds. Those owners who draft a stud RB in the top half of the 1st round can certainly wait until the 4th round before starting to build RB depth.
Like last year, there is a pretty significant dropoff after the stud receivers to a long plateau of WR2- and WR3-types. There is a 20-point difference between our #13 wideout (Vincent Jackson) and our #33 receiver (Terrance Williams), and just a 30-point dropoff from Jackson to the #42 WR (Emmanuel Sanders).
Given the sizable list of intriguing middle round running backs, it may pay to draft a pair of stud WRs in the first three rounds, though there will be value/upside available well into the later rounds; I’m talking about Golden Tate (+2), Kenny Stills (+7, Sleeper Alert), Marvin Jones (+5), Anquan Boldin (+9), Jarrett Boykin (+14) and the like. I’d be happy with any of these players on my roster as WR3- or WR4-types.
I took a closer look at the top free agent wideouts – Tate, DeSean Jackson and Eric Decker – here, and while I tend to shy away from receivers joining new teams, these three seem like relatively safe picks in 2014. Decker and Tate look like particularly good values when their ADP is factored in.
Cordarrelle Patterson (+4) seems primed for a breakout season after finishing strong in his rookie campaign, though I do worry that the late 3rd/early 4th is just too early given how raw he is as a route-runner. He has been the #14 WR off the board in early MFL drafts. If he’s around in the late 4th or 5th, I’m game.
I’ll be digging into the position further in the coming weeks as some of these camp battles start to shake out. One last note: I’m assuming an eight-game suspension for Josh Gordon, but that may be optimistic. Stay tuned.
Our initial Value Based Rankings for a 12-team league with standard scoring (and a 1-2-2-1 starting lineup) puts Jimmy Graham as the #6 player in all of fantasy football, and it’s hard to argue with that. Julius Thomas comes in at #26 overall, so he has early 3rd round value. Rob Gronkowski would have early round value as well, but I’m worried about the knee and his availability early in the season.
Jordan Reed (+0) and Greg Olsen (+1) jump out as good values relative to their current ADP. Reed was on pace for 80-887-5.3 (#7 TE-type numbers) prior to his injury, but didn't even crack the 50% snaps played mark until Week 6. In the five games where he played at least 50% of his team's snaps, he averaged 6.2-76-.40 or #3 TE-type numbers. Meanwhile, Olsen has finished in the top 8 at his position in the last two seasons and the Panthers currently lack playmakers in the passing game.
I’m pretty sure I won’t have Vernon Davis (-4) on too many teams this year. I was a fan heading into the 2013 season due to the absence of Michael Crabtree, but with Crabtree and Anquan Boldin back, and the newly acquired Stevie Johnson manning the slot, I don’t think Davis will get the targets necessary to live up to his 5th-round ADP. Davis was the #3 TE prior to Crabtree’s return, but averaged just 2.4 catches for 35 yards over the final eight games of the season. He did average 0.75 TD in that span, but that TD rate may be tough to maintain on just 4.6 targets per game, his average with Crabtree in the lineup.
If I miss out on Graham, Olsen or Reed – Jordan Cameron is intriguing as well, though he’s a bit pricey at this point – I’ll look at Kyle Rudolph, since Norv Turner’s arrival should help. Zach Ertz is interesting, but with Jordan Matthews expected to play a lot of slot, I’m not sure how many snaps/targets Ertz will get; Brent Celek is still the better blocker and the Eagles like to run the ball.
Charles Clay, Martellus Bennett and Delanie Walker are solid options that should be available into the 9th – 12th rounds. Walker specifically looks like a great value in the 13th round. He was the #12 TE last year on 5.7 targets per game, and should see a sizable role with Ken Whisenhunt calling the shots. Under Whiz, an aging Antonio Gates led the Chargers in receptions last year and even Rob Housler managed 45 catches for 417 yards in Whisenhunt’s last year in Arizona. Going back to Whisenhunt’s days in Pittsburgh, Heath Miller finished as the #11 and #13 TE in his first two seasons in the league.
I’ll be looking to snag Graham early, but that’s going to be even tougher this year than it was in 2013. After that, I’m going to look for value in the form of the ever-steady Jason Witten, Olsen, Reed or Rudolph in the middle rounds, or Clay, Bennett or Walker later on. Ertz is the wild card. If the buzz is good this summer, he may be worth a 9th rounder this year.
One other note: I’m not terribly optimistic about Eric Ebron unless it looks like he’ll get starter’s snaps. Though there has been the occasional exception, rookie TEs rarely become fantasy starters. He’s a player to monitor as the offseason wears on.
So that’s where we stand at this point. Keep in mind that these rankings can and will change as injuries and camp battles create opportunity for production. Hopefully, you’ll find our analysis valuable enough to become a member. Our Early Bird Special ($24.95) is going on now. You can also sign up below to receive our exclusive news & information direct to your inbox.