My good friend Ben Heck (bensalloutblitz.com) contacted me with a series of titillating questions regarding fantasy football and the 2014 season. He picked my brain with everything from Megatron to Manziel (ugh) and kept me on my toes! Without further ado, my incredibly subjective – but well researched – answers:
*Are the days of stock-piling running backs in the rearview mirror?
The honest answer to this question is both yes and no. Running backs that are fantasy relevant are very limited so it is always important to snag them early. You have to figure that most NFL teams have an exclusive featured back that will be getting nearly all of the carries each game. Therefore, there is only one startable fantasy back per team (with several exceptions). Alternately, teams often cycle anywhere from 3 to 5 receivers each game. This means that there is a much deeper pool of receivers getting playtime and getting points each week than there are runners. However, unlike most recent fantasy seasons, the value of early-round running backs is severely lacking. Runners who are averaging draft positions in the late 1st round all the way to the mid 3rd round likely will not put up points next season that are worth their position. Alternately, runners who can be grabbed through the 4th and 5th rounds of a standard, 12 team draft will likely perform well enough to be started. The best example of this phenomenon can be seen through the Lions’ backs: Joique Bell and Reggie Bush. Despite finishing the 2013 season with less than a 15 point difference, Reggie is being taken in the 3rd round of most drafts, whereas Joique can be taken in the 5th or 6th round. I would much rather spend a 6th round pick on a running back than a 3rd round pick for virtually the same production. On the other hand, elite receivers with great value can be grabbed in the first 3 or 4 rounds of most drafts. This year, a little more balance between both positions is a good idea!
*Is it better to grab a top-tier quarterback (Manning, Brees, Brady, etc.), or to focus on RB/WR in the early rounds and try to snag a middle-of-the-pack QB (guys like Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Russell Wilson, etc.) in the 9th or 10th rounds?
This question can be answered by a very hilarious statistic. Both Peyton Manning and Drew Brees blew every other fantasy player out of the water last season. However, those two freaks of nature aside, the third highest finishing quarterback was Cam Newton. Cam finished the season with an average of 18.6 fantasy points per game. The eleventh quarterback last season, Ben Roethlisberger, finished with an average of 16.8 fantasy points per game. That is a difference of less than two points between the third quarterback and the eleventh. In the 2014 season, Big Ben can be drafted at the end of the 11th round as the 17th quarterback off the board. Wait on quarterbacks – it won’t make any crucial difference to your fantasy team.
*Who are some of the guys heading into contract seasons that should be targeted the most in the draft?
Jeremy Maclin is certainly a name to watch. It was surprising at the end of last season when the Eagles signed their injured stud, Maclin, to a pitsy one-year contract; then, they signed their second receiver, Riley Cooper, to a fairly hefty contract. This has raised red flags for me, personally – I’ve been targeting Cooper very late as a breakout candidate for this season. However, Maclin has shown talent and is still sitting atop the Eagles’ depth chart with a lot to prove. He may very well replace DeSean Jackson’s production from last season. Another name to watch is Roddy White who has been a stellar fantasy producer for years. He played all of last season injured as his team crumbled around him and is therefore being drafted in the 5th round. His team seems totally healthy again and he is approaching a contract year where he needs to prove he still has value alongside Julio Jones. Draft him confidently where he is as a prime bounce-back candidate for this season. Contract players I’d avoid include Reggie Wayne and Ryan Matthews. Wayne will be playing in a saturated Indianapolis offense that is literally drowning in receivers. Matthews had a single mediocre season and, because of his contract coming up, is severely overhyped. His average draft position in the early 4th round is inflated beyond his value.
*Will Eagles quarterback Nick Foles pick up where he left off in 2013 and further establish himself as one of the best up-and-coming fantasy QBs in the game?
Yes. I’m not a fortune teller or super-fantasy-psychic but the Eagles’ offense produced insane fantasy numbers under Chip Kelly last season. Not only that, the team placed so much trust in their new quarterback that they cut Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. Clearly Kelly sees mounds of talent in his quarterback if he is taking away some of the team’s top weapons. It should also be noted that Foles is leaving the board in most mock drafts in the 6th or 7th rounds. Unlike Kaepernick last season, you won’t need to jump the gun to snag this young stud. If you’re still antsy, great backup quarterbacks can be grabbed as late as the 12th round as some insurance in case Foles doesn’t pan out.
*Megatron is the clear-cut No. 1 fantasy (and real-life) wideout in the game, but who comes in second on your list?
There’s a clear top 4 at receiver that seem to be placed in a tier above the rest and are very interchangeable in draft position. Those names are Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green. As you’ve stated, Megatron has clearly established himself as the front-runner as he is arguably the greatest receiver in football history. My personal no. 2 receiver is Thomas. He finished last season as the third receiver behind only Calvin and the doped-up Josh Gordon. He has been a fantasy force since his rookie year and has an incredible rapport with football’s top quarterback. The team also ditched Eric Decker who finished last season as the 9th receiver. Could that mean an increased workload for Thomas? Dez has often been contended as the no. 2; however, his poor attitude both on and off the field keep him distracted from his potential. Green is an excellent receiver but does not have the excellent quarterback situation of the other 3 receivers
*Will Percy Harvin ever get back to being a productive fantasy option?
It might surprise some to know this, but Harvin has never eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. His talent lies in his dual-threat on the ground. As he’s had injury issues for the last couple of seasons, this dual-threat is extra dangerous for a slim receiver. However, that clearly didn’t stop Seattle from using Harvin in the run game last post-season. He finished his two appearances with 54 rushing yards and a kick return for a touchdown. Something else that bodes well in Harvin’s favour is the absence of Golden Tate who was a successful receiver last season but was let go in free agency. Seattle lacks a deep pool of receivers and desperately needs Harvin to be successful next year to lead their team – expect him to be used heavily if he can stay healthy. Finally, issues with Marshawn Lynch could mean the team’s transition to featuring their backup running back, Christine Michael. If this happens, Harvin may be used more heavily in the run game as a sort of “change-of-pace” back. All of these factors add up to a successful year for the player. However (and this is a big one), he is being drafted as the 15th receiver overall in mock drafts ahead of names like Victor Cruz and Larry Fitzgerald. I do think Harvin will bounce back in some capacity, but his ridiculously high price tag is not worth the risk to me. If he happens to slide into the mid 5th round of your draft, he’s worth a shot.
*With Brian Hoyer likely to head into the season as Cleveland’s starting quarterback––barring a huge letdown in training camp––would it be worth stashing rookie Johnny Manziel on your bench as a QB2 or QB3 in case he takes over the starting role during the season?
No. Definitely not in the least ever. “Johnny Football” will never bounce into the NFL mid-season with Peyton Manning-like numbers. He is a quarterback who knows how to win but, as highlighted by several analysts, is not even close to being NFL ready. There are so many talented quarterbacks who can be grabbed as backups and won’t be a waste on your bench. You can even go without drafting a backup and look to the waiver on your bye. There will always be playable quarterbacks lying around.
*Defensive/ST units: Overrated or underrated in the world of Fantasy Football?
Defensive units are an exciting part of fantasy football as they present you with the regular dilemma of playing against your top offensive players. The stress of watching a game where you want your one player to rack up points, but you want the opposing team to shut him down is one of the most entertaining aspects of fantasy football. However, I do not understand the fad of drafting top defenses as early as the 8th or 9th round. The turnover rate for defenses each year is absolutely astounding. Two years ago, Seattle was a waiver pickup on defense. This past season, Kansas was available several weeks in. Draft a defense late and watch the waivers.
*…and how about placekickers? Do they belong in the game of fantasy football?
No. Kickers are always taken last for a reason – they don’t matter. There is absolutely no tangible way to predict how a kicker will do each week. It’s also frustrating that a kicker’s talent does not directly translate to production – all that matters is how much their team just so happens to need them in that particular game.
*In your opinion, who had the best single-season statistical performance in NFL history, fantasy-wise?
That title belongs without any hint of a doubt to Calvin Freakin’ Johnson. Megatron’s 2012 campaign produced every single receiving record in the book. He recorded the most receiving yards in a single season, the most receptions in a single month, the most consecutive games with at least 100 yards, the most consecutive games with at least 125 yards, the most consecutive games with at least 2 touchdowns, the most receiving yards in a four-quarter game, the most receiving yards in back-to-back games, and the most receiving yards in a six game span. I think there were more, but you get the point.
Thanks again to Ben of The All-Out Blitz for coming at me with these great questions!
image source: ztona.org