Every year we spend our fantasy prep time pouring through periodicals and compiling statistics based off of “expert” analysis. And while this information is invaluable, we often times ignore the most important players to a championship team: The Bench.
Finding these hidden gems can be difficult but rewarding when your first and second round picks start experiencing the injuries that come with playing as often as elite NFL players do. We’ll examine who from the bargain barrel section of the drafts can help you when they inevitably enter the fray.
Surest Thing – Ryan Tannehill: While it’s always been a rule of thumb to wait on a QB, Tannehill is being drafted far later than his recent performances would dictate in my opinion. As a passer, he’s averaged nearly 4,000 yards and 25 TD’s following his rookie season, and he’s a good bet to add 200 yards on the ground to that. Coupled with the fact that Adam Gase got decent fantasy numbers out of Jay Cutler and he’s returning a talented WR group that will likely be better this year and you have a case for Tannehill to be the best bet amongst the late round picks this year.
Highest Risk Reward – Brock Osweiler: Being drafted in the last rounds of drafts, Osweiler has a lot to prove after only 8 starts last year for the eventual Superbowl Champion Broncos. Now he’s got the offense to himself and he’s playing under Bill O’Brien who has managed to squeeze more out of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet than maybe we expected. With a go-and-get it WR in Hopkins as a saftey blanket, it’s just as easy to envision 4,000 yards and 25 TDs as it is a complete flameout as a starter. At pick 200, he’s worth a shot though.
Big Ole’ Bust – Kirk Cousins: If you’re a Kirk Cousins fans, I’ll forgive your outrage. And as a disclaimer, I think he’s a fine player, but he’s not worth drafting at his current ADP while other quarterbacks named Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford are still on the board. Cousins will likely be fine over the course of 16 games, but he’s proven much less than he’s being given credit for and he’s throwing to a collection of talented but often injuried wideouts in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. If he falls another few rounds he’d likely be be a better value, but in the 10th and 11th rounds I’ll take my chances elsewhere.
BONUS – Robert Griffin III… Going into the offseason I felt that Cleveland was taking a huge chance bringing in another potential headache to replace the departed Johnny Manziel. Now they’ve announced their handing over the key to the Winnebego. So here we are, asking the same question again; does RG3 have any football left in him? It’s likely in shallow leagues he’ll spend a week or two riding the waiver bus, but in deeper leagues he may be worth a late (and I do mean late) flier. If he is on your roster watch the waivers in case he does flame out spectacularly (as I see him doing).
As the NFL’s dog days settle in, we long for the hooplah that surrounded the draft. We pray to the football gods that a wacky Chip Kelley roster move falls in our laps. We ask that we never have to hear the words “deflated football” again in our lives. Instead we’re left reading reports of how every disappointing player is wowing in whatever camp is being participated in or how backup quarterbacks everywhere are competing to take the starting gig.
So, inspite of my fears that this is far to early to look at the NFL’s fantasy landscap, I’ll begin breaking down the pieces each NFL franchise may showcase come your very own Fantasy draft day. We’ll examine each teams skill positions and rank them from 32 to 1.
Without further adue… drum roll please!
32. Cleveland Browns
No other franchise in the NFL has swung and missed on a QB more than the Cleveland Browns. The most important position on the field, QB is the one position every NFL team focuses on, but Cleveland has a depth chart that has 35 year old journey man Josh McCown on top of their failed experiment of Johnny “football” Manziel. On top of that, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline were brought in to bolster a dismal WR corps, but achieved nothing but making them more mediocre. Despite having a solid stable of RB’s on the roster, this offense is so disfunctional I’d be surprised if they had room to run. Worth Drafting: Dwayne Bowe is a risky pick, but at least he’s his teams #1 option. Isaiah Crowell should be a top 20 back unless Duke Johnson impresses early. I wouldn’t waste a pick in the first 5 rounds on this team.
31. New York Jets
In a similar fashion to Cleveland, the Jets experimented with Geno Smith, and decided that Ryan Fitzpatrick would give them the best chance to win. No fantasy owner would agree. Brandon Marshall is a marquee name, and Fitzpatrick didn’t kill Andre Johnson’s value in Hou, so he may still be worth a pick, but beyond him Decker and Kerley should prove to be inconsistent. Chris Ivory is a steady back but with the addition of Ridley and Zac Stacy, who knows which guy will lead the team. Worth Drafting: I’m sure someone in your league will draft Ryan Fitzpatrick; don’t be that guy. Marshall is an intriguing pick as the Jets haven’t had a goal line guy for a while and they may lean heavily on him, not a WR1 but could have value if he falls. Ivory quietly put together a decent season last year, so I’d think he’ll come out of the gates on top, but I wouldn’t waste and early pick. Ridley and Stacy are both risky, and may only be valuable as a handcuff if it becomes more clear before the season starts who is the #2.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville is a team on the rise, but will still suffer short term as Blake Bortles and his young WR’s become aclimated to the league. Bortles has the tools to be a good NFL quarterback, but as young as this offense is, he’ll struggle with consistency. TJ Yeldon will likely carry the torch at RB, and should be worth a middle round pick, especially in keeper formats. At WR things are a little murky. There won’t be a huge number of passes to go around, so a big week followed by a zero could have fantasy owners screaming. Julius Thomas should still be a top 10 TE even in this offense. Worth Drafting: Bortles is a project and should be drafted with this in mind. Yeldon has a chance to come out and put up good fantasy numbers, watch carefully as the team may announce him starting over Gerhart before the season starts. Marquise Lee has the most upside of the WR corps but it’s Julius Thomas as a saftey blanket for the young QB who warrants the highest value.
29. St. Louis Rams
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think Nick Foles is going to be able to handle the lack of protection that St. Louis has been famous for. He won’t have Chip Kelly’s schemes to protect him either, so I have very little faith that Foles will return to a top 15 QB. Todd Gurley looks to be a generational talent, but inuries should limit him in year one, and Tre Mason is a solid but unspectacular RB for fantasy purposes. WR is a soft spot here with Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt being marginal at best atop the depth charts. Jared Cook could be the one fantasy expection with nearly 700 yards last year. At a shallow TE position, he could be worth a pick. Worth Drafting: Foles was average in Philadelphia’s offense, so I expect him to be worth a late round QB2 or bench spot pick. Todd Gurley should be drafted with the understanding he won’t contribute early, and likely valued too high in keeper leagues. Kenny Britt as a depth WR or Tavon Austin as a hold your breath flier would be later rounds and Jared Cook could be cheap points at the TE position.
28. Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota has some great tools, but he’s still a bit raw when it comes to the NFL game. I don’t expect him to have much fantasy impact early. Bishop Sankey disappointed his NFL owners along with the fantasy world, so they went out and got David Cobb in the draft. Cobb should eat into Sankey’s carries early, but there’s no garuntee that either will see much success. A ton of talent at WR, it’s a crap shoot with who to pick. Kendall Wright should put up solid numbers but with a rookie QB inconsistency could hurt his value, but I’m a firm believer in Delanie Walker and expect him to repeat with a top 10 TE season. Worth Drafting: Mariota should be drafted as a bench QB only. Walker is a safe bet to put up good numbers, and Dorial Green-Beckham as a flier pick could reap huge rewards with his freakish athleticism. Delanie Walker has a lot of value in the red zone, and should be counted on as a top TE in a shallow field.
27. Buffalo Bills
Matt Cassell is a slight upgrade on paper over E.J. Manuel, but he’s not good enough to elevate the offense into the middle of the pack. The biggest question in this offense is LeSean McCoy. He had a ton of touches last year for Philadelphia and could’t put together a season worthy of being a top pick last year. Now he’s wearing a bills logo and things should only be tougher for him. Sammy Watkins is a stud, but opposing teams will be focused on the talented wideout even more now. I’m intrigued by Charles Clay as well. The converted back has tools to make him a mismatch, but Cassell can’t be counted on to keep his numbers up either. Worth Drafting: I’d stay away from either QB unless in a 2QB format league. LeSean McCoy should be counted on to touch the ball 15-20 times a game, but is a huge risk at his current ADP. Sammy Watkins is a no brainer, but Charles Clay is the toughest to put your finger on. In the later rounds sure, if overvalued due to his success in Miami last year, I’d look elsewhere.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is a fine talent, but he’s young and he’s taking over for a team that allowed 52 sacks last season. Mike Evans was a revelation and Vincent Jackson is still a deep threat, but Doug Martin is still a question mark. If the team can’t use him to spell Winston, there could be some growing pains early. I’m not convinced that Austin Sefarian-Jenkins failure to turn into a fantasy option was a result of a terrible passing game. Winston may help revive his prospects. Worth Drafting: Mike Evans will be an early pick based on his athletisism and high ceiling. Vincent Jackson is going to regress eventually, but he’s still worth a WR3. Winston should outperform Mariota in terms of fantasy, but he’s a project that may not reach his hype. Sefarian Jenkins could fall to late in the draft and I’d say he’s a steal there.
25. Washington Redskins
What a mess this organization has become as Dan Snyder wants nothing more than to torment the fans of his storied franchise. Robert Griffin may not have the backing of his Head Coach but ownership has ensure he’ll get the first crack at the job this year. His talent is undeniable, his mental toughness is. If he’s playing his game, defenses can’t defend all of the areas he can attack, adding value to their small but quick recievers. Garcon is a valuable volume reciever when the football is in the air, and DeSean Jackson can still torch a secondary. Two talented TE’s in Jordan Reed and Paul Niles provide nice targets for Griffin but damage each others value significantly if both are healthy. Worth Drafting: Despite not passing the eyeball test, Griffin had a few solid performances down the stretch that show he might be able to turn this thing around. He may be worth a flier if you think so to. Alfred Morris is as boring a pick as they come, but he’s a safe bet to touch the ball 15 times a game. Garcon may have more value in PPR leagues, but DeSean Jackson has shown he can be a difference maker regardless of who is throwing the ball. Injuries derailed Reed’s season and allowed Niles Paul to showcase his skills, but Reed is the more complete fantasy player and warrants a TE2 pick.
24. Houston Texans
Sure, they have Arian Foster who when healthy is among the best at his position. But they lost Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins is being asked to step into his shoes. Last year he was a stud, compiling WR1 numbers with an anemic passing offense. Adding Brian Hoyer may give them a better chance to win, but he’s not going to light up the score board, and this could hurt the WR’s. Jaelen Strong could be a sneaky pick if teams take Hopkins out of games as Cecil Shorts is really only there to stretch the feild. Worth Drafting: Arian Foster should still be considered one of the best in the game, but age and injury concerns could hamstring a fantasy team. DeAndre Hopkins is buzzing now that he occupies the number one spot, but I’m not sure that he’s ready to be the man yet. Jaelen Strong as a rookie has the tools to outperform a flier pick if your filling out your bench.
With the NFL draft complete and most of the big time trades and free agent moves in the rear view mirror, the ultra dedicated among us have started our fantasy prep work. If you’re playing in a keeper league, there are so many things to take into account when deciding who you need to have on your roster next year. Using 2014 ADP numbers, we evaluate who are the best candidates to be kept in your leagues.
- Le’Veon Bell – ADP 27: In all likely hood due to his DUI arrest, Bell was drafted later than the back end of the 2nd round. All Bell did was turn in a top 5 RB season and show up as the top pass catching back in the league. Bell is a 1st round target this year, and if you’re lucky enough to have drafted him later in the draft (like I did in the 4th round) he’ll be a heck of a keeper.
- TY Hilton – ADP 56: It’s rare that a player exceeds the pre-draft hype like Hilton did last year. Finishing near the top ten for WR’s in fantasy scoring, Hilton is a volume reciever in an elite passing offense. The only concern here is that recently aquired Andre Johnson may eat into his numbers a little bit. Still, I expect Hilton to be a 2nd round pick.
- Emmanuel Sanders – ADP 67: When Eric Decker left and Sanders came in, we figured he’d slide in as the 4th option behind the two Thomas’ and Wes Welker. All Sanders did was finish with 100 catches, 1400 yards and 9 TD’s. With Julius Thomas gone, it’s a good bet that Sanders will continue to see elite numbers.
- Sammy Watkins – ADP 73: The hype surrounding Watkins was for real as Watkins caught 65 balls for 900+ yards and 6 TD’s. This is even more impressive when you consider he’s the only weapon in the Bills offense. If the parts around him improve, he’s a safe bet for 70-80 catches and 1100 yards.
- Russell Wilson – ADP 84: It’s amazing to me that in Fantasy circles Wilson still doesn’t get any respect. Sure, he may not have the aqumen under center to be mistaken for a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but combine his skills on the ground with an efficient passing game, and Wilson finished in the top 3 for Fantasy contributions among QB’s. Not bad in the 8th round.
- Greg Olsen – ADP 94: Olsen has always been an above average TE in the passing game, but he became a true threat this year in Carolina’s offense. With a healthy Cam Newton, expect Olsen to finish at or near the top of the TE rankings again this year.
- Mike Evans – ADP 96: The knock on Evans was that his game played a lot like Vincent Jackson’s and with a lack of QB skill, he may not live up to the hype. Flash forward and Evans finished as the #1 rookie WR in terms of fantasy contributions. A freakish athlete, should continue to produce with Jameis Winston likely being better than the rotation of QB’s the Bucs used last year.
- Carlos Hyde – ADP 103: It was bound to happen at some point. Frank Gore is no longer a 49er, leaving the door wide open for the talented Hyde to run away with the job… pun intended.
- Lamar Miller – ADP 124: Knowshon Moreno arrived from Denver prior to the 2014 season and many thought it signaled the end of Miller in Miami. When the Fins lost Moreno for the year due to injury, Miller stepped his game up and contributed nearly 1100 yards and 8 TD’s on the ground, and was a factor in the passing games for PPR owners. With the passing game getting better through the draft, expect more room to run.
- Jeremy Hill – ADP 134: Hill had to battle for playing time from Giovanni Bernard who was expected to be a 3 down back for the versatile Bengals offense. Instead it was Hill who put up great numbers and enters the year firmly entrentched as the number one option in Cincy.
- Jordan Matthews ADP 150: 67 Catches and 870 yards made for a great season for Matthews. The departure of Jeremy Maclin means that Matthews can expect a bump in production. The only cloud over his 2015 season is that Sam Bradford holds the keys to the car now, and an injury could throw a wrench in the gears.
- Odell Beckham ADP 154: This one shouldn’t surprise anyone, down the stretch Beckham was the most devestating fantasy player, racking up 20+ points (even more in PPR leagues) in 5 of the final 6 weeks of the season. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t perform at the top of the WR rankings.
- DeAndre Hopkins ADP 168: When you’re performance is enough for a team to send Andre Johnson packing, odds are you wowed some people. Hopkins finished 12th in yards (1210) and 20th in receptions (76) all while hauling in 6 TD’s. Now that Johnson is gone, Hopkins is a bonafide #1 and will likely go in the top 30 picks of your draft.
- Mark Ingram ADP 186: Ingram did what other first year busts like Trent Richardson and Darren McFadden couldn’t. He finally came through for owners. Running away with the starting gig, Ingram has 980 yards in 13 games for the Saints. An offseason that saw the Saints look to balance out the offense, Ingram stands to gain the most from the changes and could challenge for a top 15 RB spot.
- Derek Carr ADP 200: I hesitate to put QB’s on here because they are a dime a dozen in the middle of the pack, but Carr was drafted near the end of most standard drafts, and with the addition of Amari Cooper and finally having a competent back means that Carr could be a breakout in his sophomore season.
- Ryan Tannehill ADP 215: Tannehill had a coming out party in 2014, quietly leading an efficient offense in Miami that only got better in the offseason. He may never approach the elite status, but he’s a safe bet to put 4,000 and 25-30 TD’s along with a few hundred yards on the ground.
- Darren McFadden ADP 218: It would take a strong stomach to keep a guy like McFadden, but with DeMarco Murray gone and no RB’s coming in through the draft, McFadden will be the guy running behind the best O-Line in football. If he stays healthy (a big if) he’ll WAY outperform his ADP from 2014.
- Travis Kelce ADP 248: There was a lot of hype surrounding Kelce coming into the season. A massive and athletic TE who can catch, block and score he was drafted criminally low. Drafters won’t be fooled this year as Kelce has very little competition to catch passes in KC from the TE spot.
- Sam Bradford ADP 245: Similar in situation to Darren McFadden the oft injuried but talented starting QB of the Eagles should benefit from having a much better team around him in Philly than he ever did in St. Louis. Just like how Foles and Sanchez had great performances in the Chip Kelly offense, I expect Bradford to finally return the investment that drafters made when taking him.
- Steve Smith Sr. ADP 248: Even at his advanced age and with the addition of Perriman in the draft, Smith should continue to be a PPR machine. He may not command a top 30 pick, but he’ll go well before his 2014 ADP.
- C.J. Anderson ADP – : Anderson was likely a waiver wire guy in your league, and now he’s the stud in an offense full of them. With the Broncos looking to protect Peyton Manning, Anderson could finish as a top 10 RB.
- Brandon LaFell ADP – : There was speculation the Patriots could try to bolster it’s offense in the draft, instead LaFell gets the vote of confidence as he will be the main WR target for Tom Brady in 2015. Gronk and Edeleman will have a lot of touches, but LaFell should finish inside the top 30 WR’s.
- Delanie Walker ADP – : Undrafted, Walker was a beast early in the season. He has the tools to be a top 5 TE in the league, and with Tennessee improving on offense with the addition of Marcus Mariota, a healthy Walker could be in for a bump in production even over a successfull 2014 campain.