I love you.
No, not you. Although, if you are reading this, you have probably been very kind to me, and are a swell person. But instead, I’m talking to all of the terrific players in the National Football League that I’m in love with for fantasy purposes for the 2014 campaign. And don’t worry, because they are obviously reading this.
I see you, Zac Stacy.
The best thing about fantasy football is the fact that everyone has their guys. The guys they will defend for hours on Twitter, sparking arguments and debates with others who feel differently. The guys they have ranked higher than the norm, the guys they target in every draft. However, with the likes come the dislikes, as everyone has guys that they won’t touch in fantasy drafts. Personally, everyone has a price in fantasy, and just because I’m not high on a player doesn’t mean I will never draft them. That’s just not a wise way to go into a draft, as you’ll potentially miss out on great value. So, without further ado, here is my edition of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Sounds like a bad soap opera.
The Good; QB
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons– Nothing went right for Ryan in 2013. He had a poor offensive line in front of him while his two best receivers battled injury. But still, Ryan chugged along, tossing 26 touchdowns and over 4,500 yards. But he was on pace for a monster year, and if Julio Jones didn’t go down, it would have came to fruition. In five games alongside Julio last year, Ryan averaged 25 fantasy points per game, but that number dropped to 18.2 without him. Getting Julio back will be stellar, but an improved offensive line will be even better. Last year, he was sacked 44 times, being pressured on 154 of his dropbacks. That means that, via PFF, Ryan was under pressure on 41 percent of his dropbacks, and 47 percent of his interceptions came when under pressure. The addition of Jake Matthews and new offensive line coach Mike Tice should help, and the volume will be there. Last year, only Peyton Manning had more pass attempts than Ryan, and Mike Clay currently projects the Falcons to be the pass-heaviest offense in football.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys– Another year of fantasy, another time period of Romo being underrated. The guy has been a top-10 fantasy passer in each of the last three seasons and now gets pass-happy coordinator Scott Linehan on the sideline. From 2002-2004, Daunte Culpepper was the number one scoring fantasy quarterback under Linehan, and Marc Bulger was a strong option, too. Meanwhile, Linehan’s offenses have ranked inside the top-10 in pass attempts in seven of the last eight seasons. Elite weapons on the outside, expected volume and a horrid defense, Romo will have a monster year– because he’ll have to.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers– Ben was insanely quietly a top-10 fantasy option last year, and could have been even better if the Steelers uptempo offense was present for the entire year. From Week 9 on, Ben and Pittsburgh implemented a hurry-up offense, and it paid dividends. During that span. Ben was sacked just 11 times (32 the weeks prior) and averaged about 22 fantasy points per game. The Steelers offense as a whole also scored 67 more points during that time period, and with improved weapons, Ben could be in line for another sneaky good season.
The Good; RB
Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams– Surprise, surprise. Stacy on my love list. Many people are worried about the presence of Tre Mason, but he can’t pass protect and hasn’t even established himself as the number two. Meanwhile, Stacy has proven to be a workhorse, averaging over 22 carries per game from Week 5 on last year. He also had five games with 26 or more carries. Head coach Jeff Fisher loves him, envisioning him as a 70 percent of the carries player. And for the first time in his tenure as a coach, Fisher drafted an offensive lineman in the first round. For those worried about the loss of Sam Bradford, 80 percent of Stacy’s fantasy points from his rookie year came without Bradford anyway. The Rams are going to run the ball a ton, making Stacy a darkhorse candidate to lead the league in carries.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys– More Cowboys love, as this offense could be one of the most fantasy-friendly in the league. Last year, Murray caught an awesome 53 balls without Linehan’s presence, who has produced two 50-catch running backs in Detroit, as well as a 90-catch season with Steven Jackson. And during the second half last year, Dallas appeared to want to feature Murray more, as he averaged an awesome 21.3 offensive touches per game during that span. If he can stay healthy, he can legitimately be the top-scoring back in all of fantasy football.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills– Age is but a number, and Jackson’s is 33, making him the oldest back in the league. Still, Buffalo extended his contract, and he’ll have a big role in this offense. Last year, he was a top-12 fantasy back thanks to nine touchdowns, but that may not change just yet. Last year, Jackson finished top-five in both red zone carries (45) and carries from inside the 10-yard line (30). He’ll continue to be the goal line back, as C.J. Spiller has just two career carries from three yards out.
The Good; WR
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers– Averaged an elite 14.1 fantasy points per game alongside Aaron Rodgers. He could be one of the highest-scoring wideouts in terms of touchdowns, as last year, he converted 10 of 14 red zone looks from Rodgers, scoring five touchdowns. He’s an elite big play wideout, posting 118 of his 167 fantasy points (70%) off of vertical throws. Combined that with his big presence in the red zone, and Jordy should be a top-seven fantasy receiver, barring health.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans– As a rookie, Hopkins ranked 7th among all receivers in offensive snaps with 969. Another year under his belt, Hopkins could breakout, as sophomore wideouts see a 65 percent uptick in fantasy points, according to ESPN. Andre Johnson will still be drawing plenty of attention, leaving Hopkins with single coverage. Also, I’d expect him to improve on his two touchdowns from last year, as Gary Kubiak and his tight end targets in the red zone are gone.
Victor Cruz, New York Giants– Perfect fit for Ben McAdoo’s West Coast scheme. Will serve as his version of Randall Cobb, who hauled in 80 balls in 2012. Cruz still finished inside the top-25 among receivers in yards (998), receptions (73) and targets (121). He’ll be utilized a ton out of the slot, an area he is insanely comfortable in.
The Good; TE
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens– The breakout was postponed due to a hip injury, but Pitta should thrive in this Kubiak offense. From 2006-13, only four teams targeted the tight end position more than Kubiak’s Texans, and, according to Rich Hribar, during that span, tight ends accounted for 40 percent of touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line. Enter Pitta, who Joe Flacco loves, targeting him almost nine times per game during the four outings he played in last year.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers– Rushed back from tearing ACL, MCL and PCL, but is fully healthy now. Big Ben trust his reliable tight end, and just two years ago, Miller was a top-seven fantasy tight end, leading the position in red zone targets. The expected uptempo offense should result in some added volume for Heath, too.
The Bad; QB
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers– Rivers started the season on a tear, averaging over 300 yards and 20 fantasy points per game during the first 12 games. But during the second half, San Diego transitioned to more of a run-oriented offense, looking to keep your defense off the field. As a result, Rivers’ numbers regressed, throwing for 198 yards and scoring 15 fantasy points per game during the final six games of the year. I expect less volume for Rivers and for his numbers to regress.
The Bad; RB
Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns– Tate has looked pretty good this preseason, but I’m still not buying. The guy couldn’t stay healthy as a backup in Houston, and is now going to see the most usage of his career. I don’t trust that his body can withstand it. He’s missed 38 percent of his career games, dealing with ankle, head, rib, foot injuries. And, via ESPN, the guy has found himself on the Texans injury report on Sunday 80 percent of the time. He just seems like the guy that will be questionable every week, making you wait until 12:55 to submit your lineup.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers– Certain circumstances have pushed Martin up my rankings, but I’m still not crazy about him. When he was on the field last year, he wasn’t all that impressive, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, while his yards per catch was nearly cut in half. Also, during his rookie year, almost half of his fantasy points came off of a few big games, and during that year, he saw 83 percent of the Bucs red zone carries, the second-highest rate in football. I don’t expect that this year with Jeff Tedford, who alternates backs. In fact, in eight of his 15 seasons as a coordinator, Tedford’s lead back failed to receiver at least 60 percent of the carries. He also doesn’t utilize the running backs in the passing game a lot either.
The Bad; WR
Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks– An easy one for me, but Harvin just cannot be trusted. The guy has never played 600 offensive snaps in a season, and rewarded those who drafted him last year with one fantasy point. Sure, he has massive potential, as his 2011 campaign indicates. But even in that year, the Vikings limited him, seeing just 58 percent of the snaps. Seattle will surely limit his snaps, and playing in the least pass-happy offense in the NFL limits his upside a bit, too.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts– Hilton is immensely talented, but he’s the type of player I don’t typically like owning. A boom or bust guy, Hilton had just two games last year with more than 15 fantasy points. Sure, he had those two monstrous games where he totaled 56 fantasy points, but only scored 76 for the remaining 14 games. If you remove those two outlier games, he only would have averaged 5.4 fantasy points per game. Meanwhile, Reggie Wayne is back, who has been targeted on 30.6 percent of his routes run since Andrew Luck joined, the 9th-highest rate in football.
The Bad; TE
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers– Davis had an insane 13 touchdowns last year, scoring nearly 70 percent of those scores from inside the red zone. He’ll still score, but not that much, especially with Michael Crabtree back. For his career, Davis is averaging just 8.7 fantasy points per game, 3.4 receptions and 44.26 yards per game alongside Crabtree. The 49ers also have Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd in the mix now, too.
Quarterbacks in the first round, defenses and kickers before the final two rounds.