Welcome. Whether you’re a Fantasy Football champion or new to the game, you might want to bookmark this Fantasy Football Guide for this season, and possibly as a blueprint for next season. Well, this should give you clarity on questions that you may have or dilemmas you’ve been going back and forth over. This guide should help any pick in the draft from first, last, to any number in-between. Enjoy, and good luck in 2014! The first nine picks of this draft should be similar in the majority of leagues.
Obvious Superstars: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles
Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have reigned supreme over the years. The skeptics may wonder about age creeping up on them, the optimist believes the Broncos are going to average nearly 40 points per game again. Brees, well with a declining Marques Coston and some young receivers, there is some legitimate risk that comes with drafting him in the first round. But once you hear the name Jimmy Graham, all systems go for Brees being the 2nd signal caller selected.
There are three outstanding backs that should go in the top five picks, along with Manning. LeSean McCoy shined in Chip Kelly’s offense last season, and the league’s leading rusher has quite the supporting cast to keep him fresh and productive. With Adrian Peterson getting nicked up here and there, roll with “Shady” as the top tailback. A.P. would be the next option to turn to and a happy one at that. The workhorse figures to get more action in Norv Turner’s passing game this season. Kansas City fed Jamaal Charles the rock more than any other running back in the league last season. He should without a doubt be a top-3 back with the ridiculous amount of touches he gets from Andy Reid, after all, he led the Chiefs in receiving too.
Right Behind Those Guys: Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy
There are a couple backs that are in ideal situations to maximize their talent with minimal attention. Matt Forte went off last year since the opening game, right behind the top-3 backs and he should have another huge campaign. 40-water will still get handcuffs and dump offs from Jay Cutler, who has been entrusted with a new 5-year deal. Not too far behind in the fantasy rankings are his gazelle receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Much of the same can be said for Eddie Lacy in Green Bay. As a rookie he carried the load in the absence of Aaron Rodgers, it wasn’t pretty but he grinded out the season and they even snuck into the playoffs. This time around, they expect to have Rodgers and receiver Randall Cobb back better than before, and they rewarded Jordy Nelson’s big season with a new contract as well. Lacy is in prime position, and in a weak division defensively.
No-Brainers: Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson
For players like Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham, it’s the same bat time and same bat channel. These studs are locks to get picked up in the first round again. It may or may not matter to you, but if you’re on the clock with the aforementioned quarterbacks and running backs off the board (or even if they are, depends on preference of course), which guy is your top pick? Let me start off by telling you that the wide receiver pool is deep this year. Yes, you have your choice of #1, #2, and #3 receivers, but you will realize what I’m saying after going through mock drafts. Graham should get the edge because he is New Orleans’ best option even when he’s double-teamed. “Megatron” can haul in any pass as well, but he’s got more talent around him to somewhat spread the wealth. The Lions backfield of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell is a force to be reckoned with, they signed Golden Tate, and have a tight end by committee approach with different skill sets.
10th pick is where the draft really starts: Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, RBs, WRs
The first nine players is nearly a given across the fantasy football universe. The 10-spot is where things get interesting, perhaps starting a trend for the second round. This is where the other elite receivers start coming off the board. This is where some try to pile up three running backs in a row. You will see a few quarterbacks sprinkled in like Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, which is justifiable. Rodgers has been the most talented QB in the game, and Stafford has fans salivating at his gunslinger potential with a cake walk schedule in terms of defenses.
I would project Rodgers as a 2nd round pick, while Stafford ranging from rounds 3-4. Throughout the second and third rounds however, there will be a flurry of receiver taken off the big board.
Elite 8 (really, it’s 9 including Megatron)
Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson, Alshon Jeffery, Vincent Jackson
Obviously add Josh Gordon to this list if his suspension gets reduced or overturned entirely. Thomas has one of the best QBs to ever grace the field. He hits you on all levels like these other elite targets. Green has a great thing going with Andy Dalton, who was rewarded a new contract this offseason. Bryant would be the biggest risk of the group. For one, Tony Romo is coming off major back surgery, and two, there are some games when you don’t eve know Dez is playing. Brown is probably still underrated despite his monster season.
Give the nod to Marshall over Jeffery, he’s been Cutler’s guy since hooking up with the Denver Broncos. VJ never lost a step and has a better passer under center now in Josh McCown, he’s a veteran that got the best players the ball a year ago in Chicago when called upon. Johnson is a stud that plays through ailments. His new coach, Bill O’ Brien, comes from the Bill Belichick tree, he will feed the beast. His new quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, the guy went to Harvard and he was smart enough to keep Stevie Johnson involved in Buffalo.
2nd & 3rd Round Receivers
Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones, Victor Cruz, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Keenan Allen, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Randall Cobb, Wes Welker, Michael Floyd
Nelson emerged as the top wide out and his new contract proves his worth. Jones can’t seem to shake the injury bug, so in a lot of ways this is a make-or-break season for him and his fans. I’m not a Giants’ fan or anything, but I love to watch how swift Cruz is en route to salsa-dancing in the endzone. Garcon and Jackson are both coming off 1,300-yard seasons, except now they will be opposite of each other in a mediocre NFC East. Allen has become an immediate star in San Diego, he has become the go-to guy on a team with many weapons to deflect attention off of him.
Fitzgerald and White have passed the torch. Fitz brought Michael Floyd along for a breakout season, and White is hopeful that he and Julio can stay on the field to catch bombs from Matt Ryan. By the way, Floyd caught 1,000 receiving yards as Fitzgerald recorded 954. Cobb was a playmaker before hurting his leg and he did come back in the final game of the season to score the game-winning TD. Welker was used less overall in a loaded offense, but more so in the red zone by recording 10 scores in 2013.
Possible Draft Plan: Pairing Up Elite Receivers, or Some Combination Keep in mind, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to draft the dynamic receiving duos. The tandems being CHI’s Marshall/Jeffery, ATL’s Jones/White, GB’s Nelson/Cobb, DEN’s Thomas/Welker, WAS’ Garcon/Jackson, and even ARI’s Fitzgerald/Floyd. There are enough GOOD options to fill in during the bye week, more on them later.
In the midst of the passing-league frenzy, some people will attempt to load up on the backs. To make you feel better about possibly not drafting a RB in the first two rounds, there are some second and third tier options with favorable schedules to bank on.
2nd – 5th Round Running Backs
Alfred Morris, DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush, Ryan Mathews, Zac Stacy, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Montee Ball, Le’Veon Bell, Frank Gore, Trent Richardson, Giovani Bernard, Chris Johnson, Rashad Jennings, Toby Gerhart, Andre Ellington, Ben Tate
Morris may have an new offense and coach, but in two years he has taken firm control on the lead back role. We might even see him improve and actually catch some passes. Murray was as healthy as he’s ever been last season, the Cowboys need another campaign like that as the bell cow. Lynch is Pete Carroll’s guy and the engine that makes the Seahawks offense go, all the way until his contract expires and he retires. You may question why Bush would be this high, well the former Heisman Trophy-winner racked up 1,000 yards on the ground and 500 through the air. Talk about a FedEx player. Stacy is in the toughest division in football, however Jeff Fisher will feature the ground game as usual.
Martin is a good back that got bit by the injury bug. He’s been very productive in Tampa but Lovie Smith is in with a new regime and they are high rookie Charles Sims, who’s drawing Matt Forte comparisons from the former Bears coach. Foster had some dominant campaigns but the life of a running back has passed him by. Not sure he can suit up for 16 games again, but he sure is good when the pads are on. Ball inherits Knowshon Moreno’s role, who shined with over 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving. Denver wants Ball to succeed as a 3-down back so bad. Bell’s rookie year resulted in 860 yards and 400 from getting check downs from Big Ben (Roethlisberger). Frank Gore is often overlooked but he’s always there producing for the 49ers. Maybe this is the year his touches start to drop, but he’s a good fallback option if you want to take other positions higher.
Ray Rice should have a bounce-back year under new OC Gary Kubiak, that is when he returns after suspension in week 3. If you believe in him, take him sooner rather than later like between rounds 6-7. If you’re looking for value and will be content with him falling to you, think around rounds 8-9.
What about new starters like Toby Gerhart and Andre Ellington? You either buy or sell their situations. Both are said to be used as the workhorse backs on their respective teams. Ellington flashed some of his speed last season by getting 5.5 yards per carry. Carson Palmer has a cannon and will certainly get the big wideouts involved, and should be directed to drop it off to Ellington in space. You have to believe in the player to draft him, because Arizona has one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL in the NFC West. Not a promising scenario. As for Gerhart, AP’s understudy is expected to be the man in Jacksonville, a franchise looking to pound the ball and play defense. Gerhart only touched the ball 49 times in 2013, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry (36) and 7 per catch.
After Graham, the next two guys are Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas. Gronk is an absolute stud that was the recipient to a couple brutal hits that knocked him out of two seasons. Just like I blamed Peyton Manning for getting Brandon Stokely hit down the seams, the same goes for Tom Brady zeroing in on Gronk. You would assume that he would endure his bad luck and finally get back to being the 1B to Graham’s 1A at tight end. Thomas spent the offseason working out with future Hall of Famer, Tony Gonzalez. This comes after a nearly 800-yard and 12 touchdown breakout campaign.
Both tight ends are part of a deep arsenal of weapons for their star quarterbacks to utilize. Gronk is more likely to draw double-teams, as both should have another monster season. For the record, I would draft Thomas as high as round 3 (excellent situation and production) and only “settle” for Gronkowski (injury concerns) if he falls to the fourth round.
4th – Mid-Round WRs Cordarrelle Patterson, Percy Harvin, Julian Edelman, Kendall Wright, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Terrence Williams, Malcolm Floyd, Cecil Shorts, Torrie Smith, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Mike Wallace, Eric Decker, Anquan Boldin, Tavon Austin, Sammy Watkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Kenny Stills, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Brian Hartline, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Michael Crabtree, Harry Douglas, Marvin Jones, Jarrett Boykin, James Jones, Steve Smith
5th – 8th Round QBs
Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck
When a franchise believes in a player by extending him long-term, they are essentially going all in, especially if he’s a quarterback. That is why it’s Jay Cutler or bust in Chi-town. He’s got an elite dynamic duo with an all-purpose back, and an offensive guru coaching him. Tom Brady was quietly elite last season, the return of his frankenstein tight end will only add to his numbers. Matt Ryan threw for 4,000 yards without a lot of help from his Pro Bowl wideouts. Losing the great Tony G will be eased by the emergence of Harry Douglas in the slot, and they did spend their first pick on the OL. Cam Newton doesn’t have a sexy receiving core, but these guys only have to do so much for the dual-threat that is Superman.
Philip Rivers gets another year with breakout receiver Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates usually starts the season strong and second TE Ladarius Green is coming along slowly but surely. Don’t overlook the impact Danny Woodhead has and Malcolm Floyd is back from injury and looking smooth. Andrew Luck has an arsenal now. Reggie Wayne is back, T.Y. Hilton started to break out, Dwayne Allen is back, and Trent Richardson is expected to find his groove. Plus, Luck has a cake-walk schedule this season.
6th & 7th Round RBs
Maurice Jones-Drew, Bishop Sankey, DeAngelo Williams, Pierre Thomas, Steven Jackson, Stevan Ridley, Lamar Miller, Joique Bell, Fred Jackson
These guys are in timeshares. The fact that they will be getting a good amount of touches and staying relatively fresh by sharing the load, meansyou may get consistent production throughout the year with a couple breakout performances. The one that can really separate himself is Lamar Miller. If Knowshon Moreno doesn’t become a factor, then Miami’s offense is his to excel in, in a role similar to LeSean McCoy now. If their backfield mate were to go down, these players become must-starts.
6th – 9th Round Tight Ends
Jordan Cameron, Vernon Davis, Greg Olsen, Jason Witten, Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Reed
These guys are self-explanatory. You’re going to see Jordan Cameron and Vernon Davis taken first because of their big-play potential. Cameron could lead all tight ends in targets without Josh Gordon in the lineup. Then Greg Olsen and Jason Witten should follow, they have been very dependable and get targeted a lot. I like Kyle Rudolph, so do the Vikings by agreeing to a long-term deal with him. They’re banking on Norv Turner working his magic with him, much like he did with Cameron in Cleveland. Jordan Reed is good, in a good offense, with a good coach, but he’s probably one concussion away from missing multiple games if not worse. Mid-Round QBs
Robert Griffin, Nick Foles, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton
These are guys with some upside yet risky in their own ways. Griffin is entering his third season under new coach Jay Gruden. This will advance his skill set, especially with the addition of DeSean Jackson, however he hasn’t stayed relatively healthy (Michael Vick Jr. status). Nick Foles has a small but amazing sample size. He will go through growing pains, but they might not necessarily affect his fantasy football stats with Chip Kelly calling the shots. Tony Romo is coming off of back surgery at age 34, that’s scary in itself. Then take into account the Cowboys want and need to ground and pound to overcompensate for their defense. Some other things to consider, Dez Bryant has completely faded out of a few games each season, Jason Witten is slowly on the decline, the other receivers aren’t proven, and DeMarco Murray is good at catching but has only been healthy for one season really.
Big Ben always sneaks his way into the top-7 or so with his play in the second half of seasons, he’s probably underrated still but his young weapons are unknown commodities beyond Antonio Brown. Andy Dalton was pretty good last season with tight end Tyler Eifert and receiver Marvin Jones expected to take the next steps in their developments as well. For the first time though, Dalton won’t have Jay Gruden there.
Mid – Late Round RBs
Darren McFadden, Ahmad Bradshaw, Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Jeremy Hill, Dexter McCluster, Jonathan Stewart, Mark Ingram, Knowshon Moreno, Roy Helu, Terrence West, Kniles Davis, James Starks, Carlos Hyde, Christine Michael, Bernard Pierce
Bernard Pierce gets the call with Ray Rice suspended for the first two games of the season. Knowshon Moreno had a huge year next to Peyton Manning, coming off a 1,000-rushing yards and 400 receiving-yard campaign. Returning to familiar territoty in Miami, he could relinquish his role from Lamar Miller and be a top-15 back. Or, he could remain behind the younger Miller, we won’t know how that situation unfolds until mid-season. Terrence West could absolutely become the guy, current incumbent Ben Tate couldn’t stay healthy in the soft AFC South, is he really supposed to be trusted in the physical AFC North now? Roy Helu is a few mistakes or one injury away from making a huge impact for Jay Gruden, who inherits him and Alfred Morris.
Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jonathan Stewart, Dexter McCluster, and Shane Vereen will resume the roles they have excelled in for years now. Entering that category is Darren McFadden and Jeremy Hill, although they will become the guy if an injury occurred. Christine Michael is solely a handcuff behind Marshawn Lynch, but one of the top handcuffs. The same can be said for Carlos Hyde who is behind Frank Gore. Mark Ingram will get touches and he played well at the end of last season, but is one missed block or fumble away from re-entering the doghouse. Kniles Davis and James Starks are handcuffs, Davis has more appeal with Jamaal Charles ending the year on the sidelines and logging the most touches in football.
Dolphins: Lamar Miller/Knowshon Moreno – Can Miller hold onto the starting gig? Does Miami plan to use them in a timeshare? When Moreno is full-go, did they sign him to be the top guy he was in Denver last year? New OC Bill Lazor has implemented some of Chip Kelly’s scheme since leaving the Eagles, a team that led the league in rushing.
Saints: Pierre Thomas/Mark Ingram/Khiry Robinson – The Saints will always be a pass-happy team as long as Sean Payton and Drew Brees are calling the shots. Then playoff time they mix in the run to have a more-balanced offense, except that doesn’t help us much in fantasy land. All three backs are expected to rotate, with Thomas having the lead role as a rusher and receiver.
Titans: Bishop Sankey/Dexter McCluster/Shonn Greene – Right now Greene is atop the depth chart because he’s the veteran. Sankey’s role remains to be seen, although he was drafted in the 2nd round the thinking is they’re going to use him as a change-of-pace back. McCluster only carried the ball eight times in 2013 for KC, but Tennessee vows to use him at running back after a season where he caught 53 balls for 511 yards.
Top 12 Team Defenses (Preferably wait until round 12 at the earliest, some will reach as early as rounds 8-9)
Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Bengals, Chiefs, Rams, Patriots, Saints, Browns, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Texans
If you want the Seahawks or Panthers you have to reach for them. I prefer to take what’s left of the bunch because the total points at the end of the year shouldn’t be too drastic of a difference. For instance, Kansas City wasn’t even on the map as far as drafting defenses last season. You could also pick up a new defense every week and play the best matchup of the week that’s available.
Sleeper/Watch List Quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick, Josh McCown, Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
Ryan Tannehill threw for just under the 4,000 yard mark and is running for big gains this offseason. New OC Bill Lazor comes from Philly, and is hoping to elevate Tannehill’s game like Nick Foles in 2013, and he does have an easier schedule than most QBs. Adding Knowshon Moreno will help in terms of pass-protection and he’s a good back in the passing game. If there ever was a season that Colin Kaepernick ran out of excuses, we are at that point in 2014. Surrounded by a strong RB core and his deepest receiving core: Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, and the Pro Bowl Vernon Davis. The weapons are there, which is necessary in that NFC West.
Josh McCown stood out in relief time for Jay Cutler and the Bears. In fact, he outplayed Cutler with impressive production that landed him as the starter of the Buccaneers. He’s got VJ and rookie Mike Evans to operate with. Joe Flacco usually keeps his picks down and throws for the low-20s in touchdowns. The addition of Steve Smith and OC Gary Kubiak should really help Flacco, and he should start making a real fantasy impact this season. Kubiak squeezed three 4,000 yard seasons of of Matt Schaub. When you look at the numbers, he simply struggled but was sacked a ton to be somewhat fair to the former Pro Bowler. Oakland has the toughest schedule in football, but they have some young receivers that they’re excited about. He should be on your watch list if injuries and bye weeks hit at the wrong time.
Late Round/Watch List WRs Golden Tate, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Reuben Randle, Odell Bekham, Greg Jennings, Brandin Cooks, Justin Hunter, DeAndre Hopkins, Nate Washington, Marquise Lee, Miles Austin, Rod Streeter, Andre Holmes, Markus Wheaton, Jerricho Cotchery, Kenny Britt, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Williams, Jordan Matthews, Doug Baldwin
Here, you’re looking at a group of either starting #2 receivers, or the better #3 receiver/slot options in the league. That is exactly why you saw some #3 receivers go earlier than these players, mainly GB’s Jarrett Boykin and DEN’s Emmanuel Sanders.
Top 12 Kickers (Should be the last pick, or second to last pick if you really have someone in mind) Stephen Gostowski, Matt Prater, Robbie Gould, Nick Novak, Mason Crosby, Steven Hauschka, Justin Tucker, Adam Vinatieri, Phil Dawson, Matt Bryant, Shane Graham, Dan Bailey
Pick a good offense. Maybe even one that has redzone issues, so you can pick up a kicker that’ll boot more field goals. That would be highlight SD’s Nick Novak, ATL’s Matt Bryant, and DAL’s Dan Bailey. But, the explosive offenses will rack up the extra points often, which make these the top kickers: Matt Prater, Stephen Gostowski, and Robbie Gould (very underrated).
Handcuff/Watch List Backs LeGarrette Blount, Jordan Todman, Ronnie Hillman, Lance Dunbar, Jerick McKinnon, Charles Sims, Stepfan Taylor, Benny Cunningham, Andre Williams, Chris Ivory, Jacquizz Rodgers
LeGarrette Blount has proved his value late in the season and could be used more if Le’Veon Bell struggles. Jordan Todman has some good showings in 2013, he’d get most of the carrier if Toby Gerhart gets banged up. Ronnie Hillman is a change-of-pace back that would share the load with CJ Anderson if Montee Ball gets hurt or struggles with fumbles. Lance Dunbar hasn’t stayed healthy but DeMarcos Murray has only showed that last year. Dunbar should be involved to keep Murray fresh. Rookie Jerick McKinnon is supposedly the heir apparent to AP.
Charles Sims has drawn Matt Forte comparisons from Love Smith, who has no strings attached to Doug Martin who has returned from injury. Stepfan Taylor’s situation could be favorable with all the Andre Ellington questions. Benny Cunningham is said to be involved in the offense behind Zac Stacy. Rookie Andre Williams will be sharing the load somewhat with Rashad Jennings, especially in the redzone. With only Peyton Hillis behind him and David Wilson retiring, he’d be the only viable option standing if/when Jennings gets sidelined as history suggests. Chris Ivory ran for 800 yards a year ago in a stagnant Jets offense, and will supposedly cut into CJ2k’s touches. Jacquizz Rodgers is the change-of-pace back in the ATL, where Steve Jackson’s body has gradually broken down.
3rd String RB Watch List James White, Bobby Rainey, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk, Khiry Robinson, Latavius Murray, Theo Riddick, Devonta Freeman, Tre Mason, Denard Robinson
All of these players figure to get some snaps this season. James White has been dipping into Stevan Ridley’s carries, who struggled with fumbles, and is picking things up quickly under the sneaky Bill Belichick. Bobby Rainey gave the Bucs a boost after Doug Martin was lost for the season. Bryce Brown had his moments as LeSean McCoy’s backup, now he’s behind some injury-prone backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Chris Polk actually won the backup role from Bryce Brown in Philly, which is why Brown was traded. Polk will get Shady’s carries if he were to go down, while Darren Sproles would stay in his role as the change-of-pace back and slot receiver. Khiry Robinson is a guy that some think will be the reason the Saints don’t extend Mark Ingram’s deal next offseason. He is ready to play at the very least, in a timeshare with Pierre Thomas.
Latavius Murray has the Raiders raving about him bring the most to the table in a backfield with familiar names, MoJo and run DMC. Theo Riddick is earning playing time in the slot because the Lions are loaded with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Riddick will get plenty of snaps of one of those players were to go down. Devonta Freeman is expected to leap-frog Jacquizz Rodgers in any Steven Jackson absence, but it will be a timeshare situation. Tre Mason was drafted in the third round. The optimist would say that Zac Stacy could be a one-hit wonder and back Benny Cunningham wouldn’t be the bell cow if Stacy went down. Denard Robinson is making the Jaguars find ways to put him on the field, similar to Riddick.