The NFC South has produced two Superbowl teams in the last two years, and looks to be a competative division again with four strong football teams. As usual, the South should be strong in the fantasy representation as well, with high flying offenses and high ranking individuals.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Julio Jones (WR2), Matt Ryan (QB4), Devonta Freeman (RB5), Austin Hooper (TE20), Tevin Coleman (RB22), Taylor Gabriel (WR64), Mohamed Sanu (WR75)
Synopsis – Some may be concerned with where this team is mentally after blowing a monster lead in the Superbowl, but I’d argue that the talent trumps any kind of hangover. The offense is led by the triumverate of elite players in Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, and Devonta Freeman, and they all look to offer early round values. Coleman and Sanu are likely to carve out minor fantasy roles with Austin Hooper being the likely breakout candidate following Jacob Tamme’s departure. Expect fireworks in Atlanta again this year.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Greg Olsen (TE3), Cam Newton (QB10), Christian McCaffrey (RB16), Kevlin Benjamin (WR31), Jonathan Stewart (RB34), Devin Funchess (WR72)
Synopsis – Cam Newton suffered a litany of minor injuries and his stats suffered as a result. His expectations have been adjusted but with the addition of Christian McCaffrey, fans are hopeful we’ll see more plays from the pocket and less vicious hits at the end of short runs. A healthy Kelvin Benjamin looks to rebound, and Jonathan Stewart returns to his role as underdog, and figures to excel despite the precipitous drop in the rankings. Ole reliable Greg Olsen returns as my TE3, and could quietly finish as the top TE considering his role in this offense.
New Orleans Saints
Notable Fantasy Stars: Drew Brees (QB3), Michael Thomas (WR8), Mark Ingram (RB18), Willie Snead (WR36), Adrian Peterson (RB40), Ted Ginn (WR56), Coby Fleener (TE14)
Synopsis – It was an interesting offseason by the Saints as they traded former first round WR Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, and signed 32 year old Adrian Peterson to fill out what they hope to be a more balanced offensive attack. Mark Ingram may suffer slightly if AP is more than advertised, but considering the lower number of touches last year, one can expect a RB2 finish regardless. Michael Thomas slides into the WR1 spot but Willie Sneed and Coby Fleener should be the big winner as their targets should rise significantly as Brees is still likely to throw the ball 600 times.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Mike Evans (WR3), Jameis Winston (QB6) ,O.J. Howard (TE17), Cameron Brate (TE22), Doug Martin (RB33), Charles Sims (RB57), DeSean Jackson (WR30)
Synopsis – The Bucs are a tough team to get a handle on, but Mike Evans and Jameis Winston no longer qualify as both guys should finish in the top ten at their positions. Doug Martin and Charles Sims should split time (again) with the Muscle Hamster tackling the early downs and Sims cleaning up the passing situations. Beyond Evans, the Bucs have two young TE’s (OJ Howard is likely the most valuable in a fantasy sense) that should be heavy in the passing game, and DeSean Jackson seems to find his way onto the fantasy radar despite his WR3 ranking.
As futile as the exercise may seem this early, identifying sleeper candidates is one of the most important pieces of research you can embark upon. Below we’ll identify three leading candidates for you to keep an eye on before the preaseaon starts.
Austin Hooper – Atlanta Falcons | ADP 178 – TE 21 | It’s not fair to Austin Hooper that TE’s in Atlanta will be compared to all-time great Tony Gonzalez, but that’s the long and short of it.
With Jacob Tamme gone, Hooper will reprise his role from primarily a blocking TE to catching the football. So far, Matt Ryan has rung his praises, and the Falcons are preparing to get Hooper involved in the high flying offense in Atlanta. Prediction: 750 Receiving Yards, 8 TDs
Julius Thomas – Miami Dolphins |ADP 134 – TE 19 | While Thomas was certainly on these lists over the last few years, it was a combination of poor health and poor fit that caused him to disappear from fantasy relevance. Well queue the music because Thomas finds himself reunited with Adam Gase (the man responsible for his fantastic TE1 seasons in Denver). Despite this, and the fact that Miami has effectively used TE’s in the past (eg. Charles Clay, Jordan Cameron), Thomas is still being drafted as the 19th best TE. Prediction: 900 Receiving Yards, 12 TDs
Erik Swoope – Indianapolis Colts | ADP 319 – TE 42 | Just when you though I wouldn’t go deeper than Julius Thomas, here comes Erik “won’t get drafted” Swoope to round out the TE sleepers. While Jack Doyle is being considered the heir to departed Dwayne Allen’s starting TE gig, it’s Swoope, the former college basketball player, who has the athleticism to make a difference in Indy’s pass first offense. Averaging almost 20 yards per catch, Swoope will inhabit at the very least the targets that went to Allen, meaning he can expect 60-80 targets regardless. Sure he won’t average the same 19.8 ypc he did last year but he carries massive upside from the very last round. Prediction: 800 Receiving Yards, 6 TDs
Honorable Mentions: Dwayne Allen, NE (ADP 221), Jared Cook, Oak (ADP 198), Jordan Legget, NYJ (ADP 315).
Ryan Tannehill quietly put together a borderline top 10 QB season, and Lamar Miller proved he could run the football with some consistency and catch it on occasion in the passing game. The receivers on this team are young and talented, with high volume option in Jarvis Landry and burners in Kenny Stills and Rishard Matthews. Adding Jordan Cameron only makes it harder for defenses to match up when they want to spread you out. Worth Drafting: Ryan Tannehill will likely be valued lower than he should be, as a later QB1 he’s worth it. Lamar Miller may have some competition later in the year from the uber talented Jay Ajayi, expect him to be a workhorse if healthy. Landry should be a good bet for 70+ catches, and Stills could be a weapon for Tannehill over the top. Jordan Cameron, if healthy, will step in and replace Charles Clay’s production very well.
11. San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers manages every year to put together a top 10 QB season, and expect this year to be no different. Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd should still see the bulk of the passes, new addition Stevie Johnson has a lot to prove and could be a nice late round WR addition. Despite Ledarius Green’s presence, Antonio Gates went out and killed it last year, and I’ll never again doubt the big mans ability or drive. Worth Drafting: Philip Rivers as always falls just shy of the NFL elite, but is a solid QB if you miss out on the top teir guys. Keenan Allen has the tools to be a WR1 and Michael Floyd will still stretch the field a bit (16.5 YPC last year). Stevie Johnson is a risk/reward player as his pedigree may trick owners into jumping early. Antonio Gates should be himself again this year, and I would caution against Ladarius Green fans against expecting any real fantasy value unless Gates gets hurt. Melvin Gordon could be this years highest scoring rookie… don’t be afraid to draft.
10. Chicago Bears
I know what you’re thinking, “the Bears in the top 10?” They may not be a top 10 NFL team, but we’re talking in terms of fantasy contributions. Jay Cutler may be inconsistent, as is evidenced by his second half slide, but he still has plenty of tools and a big arm. Alshon Jeffery will have an uptick in attempts as Cutler has shown a propensity to seak out his top target despite double teams. Matt Forte is a top 10 RB and top 3 in PPR formats, and Martellus Bennet moves into the top 3 conversation at TE thanks to Jimmy Grahams change of scenery. Worth Drafting: I was high on Jay Cutler last year, and this hasn’t changed. If you look at his first 5 or 6 weeks last year, he had some pretty good numbers that would have been even better if he didn’t turn the ball over. Kevin White is an unknown quantity but he should replace Marshall in the long run with the same kind of build. Jeffry should be a top 10WR and Bennett is a top 3 TE.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan did the best he could with the rash of injuries that clipped the Falcons wings last year, but a healthy squad will make a world of difference. Ryan is a top 10 QB even without his top two targets healthy. Tevin Coleman could push Devonta Freeman but both are talented and whoever makes it out of camp as the #1 should see above average RB numbers. Roddy White is still an every week start even with the top 3 WR in Julio Jones across from him. They have question marks at TE as Toilolo Levine led their active TE’s with 62 points last year (in 1pt PPR). Worth Drafting: Matt Ryan had a few brutal weeks and still managed a top 10 finish, he’ll have a better grasp on this offense and health not withstanding should be a top 10 QB this year as well. Julio Jones has the talent to finish #1, and he’ll likely go in the first 15 picks. Roddy White gets over looked more every year but he’s still a top 20 WR. The real question is Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman? I think it’ll be a battle in camp, and both guys should have some fantasy relevance come week 1.
8. New York Giants
The world was against the Giants after a brutal season prior, but Eli Manning still finished top 10 at QB, and Odell Beckham emerged as a top WR threat. With the return of Victor Cruz this offense could have two scary weapons for Eli to use. Rashad Jennings may be a little older than the other top RB’s, but he still averaged 10-11 points per week (depending on your scoring system). Larry Donnell put together an admirable season and the Giants like to use TE’s in the passing game. Worth Drafting: Eli is a safe bet to out perform his numbers last year if he has a healthy WR corps. Beckham will likely be drafted incredibly early, but with Cruz back, he’ll be hard pressed to repeat his second half numbers. Rueben Randle is the real steal here, as his value takes a huge hit with two studs in front of him, but in a passing offense, he should out perform his ADP. Rashad Jennings was fine when he played, but grab Andre Williams late as a handcuff if you need to use Jennings as a RB 1 or 2.
7. Detroit Lions
I hate to say that Matthew Stafford is overrated, because I think he’s an entertaining gun slinger in the Brett Favre mold, but his terrible efficiency actually lowers his ceiling despite as often as he throws the football. That being said, he has two elite WR’s in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Either one can carry the torch if the other isn’t performing. At TE, they have two question marks: is Brandon Pettigrew capable of being used in the passing game and can Eric Ebron be healthy enough to contribute. I think Ebron is the TE the Lions would rather emerge. Joique Bell got a lot of touches last year, but averaged under 4 YPC. His value lies in the passing game, but the Lions served notice in drafting what they think is a 3 down back in Ameer Abdullah. A great talent, he should push Bell for touches early and often. Worth Drafting: Matt Stafford at the right price has enough volume to contribute but he’ll drive you crazy. Calvin Johnson slipping down the ranks only helps the owner who gets him, he’s still the best in the game in my opinion. Golden Tate is a solid second option, and a good one two punch in Bell and Abdullah in the backfield make this a formidable offense. Ebron is the TE to look at with a much higher ceiling.
6. Seattle Seahawks
The beautiful thing about this offense is that it’s predictable and consistent. Russell Wilson will beat you through the air or on the ground, and his ability to run at the right time means he’ll get you a ton of points that other QB’s won’t. Marshawn Lynch is a workhorse unlike any in the league. He’ll touch the ball with greater consistency and efficiency than anyone else. The homeruns aren’t always there, but 4-5YPC and double digit touchdowns make him my #1 back. Doug Baldwin has proven to be a solid #1 for a team that doesn’t throw it that much, his value will reflect that. Beyond him, Jimmy Graham should give Wilson a redzone threat, but no one else is more than a flier. Worth Drafting: This team features three top 5 position options. Russell Wilson ran for 850 yards last year… he’s in my top 3 for QBs. Marshawn Lynch may not have as many 30+ point weeks as a Le’Veon Bell, but his unparralleled consistency (12 weeks above RB average) make him my #1, and Jimmy Graham will likely be the #1 option inside the 20 plus just a tick behind Baldwin elsewhere. Draft all three confidently. Doug Baldwin is a safe WR if he’s available after the top options are off the board.
5. Dallas Cowboys
My value of the Dallas Cowboys is contingent on the offensive line. Darren McFadden’s ability hasn’t been his big question, it’s been his health. If he can stay on the field he’ll benifit greatly from the O-Line that helped DeMarco Murray lead the league in rushing last year. Dez Bryant and Tony Romo have a special connection, allowing both to creep towards the top 5 in their catagories. Cole Beasley should be a good value pick in PPR leagues, and Jason Witten is ageless and productive. Worth Drafting: At their relative ADP’s I’d say nearly all of the offensive weapons are worth a look. Bryant, Romo and McFadden all three will be drafted in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Witten, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley all have a good chance to produce weekly for this team as well.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Who knew Le’Veon Bell would bounce back from a tough rookie year to lead the league in fantasy scoring? We knew he’d be good, but it gave the offense the freedom to throw different looks at the defense. They were rewarded with a career year by Roethlisburger and the emergency of Antonio Brown as a top WR office. Marcus Wheaton will put up solid WR fantasy stats as well, and Heath Miller, although no longer Elite, still has some gas in the tank. Worth Drafting: Ben Roethlisberger may not finish with the totals he had last year, but he’s a good bet to finish at or near a top 5 QB. Le’Veon Bell is going to miss a few games to start the year, but it’s clear he’s the focal point of that offense and he’s young enough to eat up 300+ touches and is a beast in PPR. Antonio Brown is the Marshawn Lynch of the receiving game. Quietly posting 300 or so points in PPR leagues and nearly 15-20 points every week. Bell and Brown are likely first or 2nd round picks. Don’t sleep on Miller either as there is really only 5 or 6 elite TE’s on the board, and after you’re looking at either consistency (miller) or home run weeks.
3. Denver Broncos
This wouldn’t change if Peyton Manning was 50 years old, and that’s because they finally found their RB to compliment their lethal passing game. Peyton is a general, and will use his elite weapons liberaly, and will make mediocre talents look even better. Julius Thomas is gone but anyone that can run routes will look solid in this offense. CJ Anderson as a 3 down back compliments Manning in ways Montee Ball never could, averaging 180+ points in PPR formats over the final 7 weeks (on par with Le’Veon Bell). Worth Drafting: Manning may be falling behind his contemporaries a bit but should still finish in the top 5. Demaryius Thomas looks to be a top 2 WR with Emmanuel Sanders not far behind. CJ Anderson is a bit of an unknown quantity but even if he’s only a quarter of the back he was over the last 7 weeks, he’ll be a top 10 back. Not sure about Virgil Green, but I think we said the same thing about Julius Thomas a few years ago, and Manning turned him into a top option.
2. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy… do I need to say more? A high powered offense with consistency and familiarity unlike any squad in the league, they could break records if the schedule shakes out for them. They play through the air, and on the ground, but they give everyone their due which is rare for a team with as many options. Worth Drafting: Aaron Rodgers may have been supplanted by Andrew Luck, but he hasn’t fallen far. All four of the players above will be gone in the first 3 or so rounds, which is scary for opposing defenses. Andrew Quarless is the other player to target, but they’ve never been a heavy TE use team.
1. Indianapolis Colts
AFC Championship withstanding, this is the most outstanding offense in football. A team that is often in shootouts, Indy has a quarterback to compete with them all. Adding Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, and Phillip Dorsett through the draft makes this offense even better than last year. Luck could (and I’d argue should) crest 5k yards and 50 TD’s, contributing to TY Hilton’s continued emergence as a 2nd round WR. Frank Gore has proven he can play forever, and in this Indy offense should contribute on the ground and in the air, and Andre Johnson may have lost a step but as a route runner, the dangerously accurate Luck should have no problem finding him in the soft spots of the defense. Worth Drafting: Andrew Luck will finish the year as the highest scoring player in football, draft him in the first round if you want him, he’s that good. TY Hilton and Andre Johnson should both have 70-80 Receptions with 1100 plus yards, although I expect Johnson to be the bigger red zone threat and higher ADP. Frank Gore may not be a top 5 or even top 10 RB, but expect some huge weeks from the old dog as he will be highighted in the passing game. Even Dwayne Allen, for all his deficiencies, should finish inside the top 10 of the TE ranks.
If you have a problem with any of these rankings, I say good, because debating and conversation is the best way to explain why we feel the way we feel. Tell me where I’m wrong, and who is your Fantasy Elite?
Would you rather is a weekly Fantasy Football article that will run up until Week 1 of the 2015 NFL Regular Season where we look at Pro’s and Con’s involved with Draft Day decisions.
The scenario is as follows. You play in a standard ESPN league, and Rodgers, Luck, and Wilson (all 300 point QBs) are gone. You don’t trust the old guys in Manning, Brees, or Brady, so you patiently wait and stock up on skill position players. The time comes for you to decided and you’re faced with a decision… who would you rather?
Player A statline from 2014: 4964 Yards / 28 TD / 66% Comp / 266 Total Fantasy Points
Player B statline from 2014: 4045 Yards / 27 TD / 66% Comp / 262 Total Fantasy Points
Player A is a 29 year old vet whose ADP last year was 63, B is a 26 year old up and comer who was drafted 173. It’s reasonable to expect these players to be drafted this year very close to each other but who do you grab. We can infer from the numbers that player B runs the ball more than Player A as is evidenced by a less productive game through the air but similar total points. Player B is near the top of the league in yards but not quite “Elite” in a scoring sense. Who do you bet on keeping up appearances in 2015?
The Big Reveal
Player A is none other than Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan. His elite stable of WR’s were far from healthy last year but he still managed a top 10 QB finish.
Player B is Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill who’s passing numbers don’t jump off he page but his 311 rushing yards were good for 5th among QB’s and 61st in the league overall.
Now, you may be wondering if you can rely on a QB’s running numbers to elevate his overall fantasy game. I say, in the case of a Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick, you’re hoping the weeks they scamper for 150 and 2 TD’s come at the right time. For a player like Tannehill, his ability to grab 20 – 30 yards here and there give him the ability to make a decent week a little better.
I think a more relevant way to look at both players is their consistency. Both players finished well above average in terms of Fantasy Points per week. Among starters who played in half of their teams games, the average points per week come in at 14.5. Matt Ryan had 9 total weeks above 14, Tannehill had 7. The flip side is that Ryan had two weeks of 10 points or less, and in a 13 game regular season that could be the difference in making the playoffs or watching from the outside in. Tannehill had zero, less than Fantasy point leader Andrew Luck!
Does any of this sway one to draft the largely unproven Ryan Tannehill over Matt Ryan? For me, the question remains what weapons does Miami have? A lot of young, big risk big reward type skill players. Atlanta has two studs who if healthy form one of the most potent duo’s in the league. If (and it’s a big if) both players go in the same round, I’d take Matt Ryan for his consistency over Tannehill and his percieved upside.
What do you think?