Monday, August 18, 2014

Preseason Column #3: The right sleepers can make a good draft great

It’s the time of year when fantasy enthusiasts obsess over draft order and which players will be available when the time comes to make that fateful first-round pick. Jamaal or Shady? Peyton or Brees? Bud or Miller?

But as important as your initial pick can be, it pales in comparison to the handful of selections you’ll make – or miss – several rounds later.  After all, as happy as you may be to land Alshon Jeffrey or Julius Thomas now, they won’t be the bargains they were last year for the savvy players that stole them late in the draft and rode them into the postseason.

Fantasy veterans know the secret to great drafting is not simply choosing the best players available, but doing so no earlier than necessary. You may share my belief that Emmanuel Sanders is on the verge of a breakout season; but you’re hurting yourself – and, worse yet, begging for ridicule from your opponents – if you pull the trigger too early. 

Who are this year’s hidden gems?  Let’s take a look at my Sleeper Picks of 2014, broken down by position.

(Note: ADP, or “average draft position,” indicates where the player is typically being selected within his position.“QB14” means he’s the 14th quarterback taken on mock draft sites. Compare to my Fantasy Fools “FF” rankings).

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears (ADP QB14; FF QB5). Long-time readers will be shocked to see this, because I’ve always been a Cutler detractor. This year, I'm prepared to see a lot more Good Jay than Bad Jay. With the blue-chip receivers at his service, Cutler's arsenal is fully loaded. He could have an elite year if he simply cuts down the boneheaded plays.

Josh McCown, QB, Buccaneers (ADP QB24; FF QB11). He was masterful as Cutler's replacement in 2013 and he was rewarded with a big contract and another pair of talented, jumbo-sized receivers in Tampa Bay. Draft him as your backup and you may be rewarded with starter-quality stats.

Zac Stacy, RB, Rams (ADP RB14; FF RB8). Stacy proved he could handle the bell cow role as a rookie. All he needs is for Sam Bradford to stay healthy and give him some cover, and he could put up elite numbers.

Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants (ADP RB21; FF RB14). His current ADP is virtually identical to his final 2013 ranking in Oakland, which makes sense only if you think he won’t keep his new starting gig. With David Wilson retiring, only fourth-round pick Andre Williams stands in his way. Jennings is no superstar, but he’ll handily out-perform his draft position while posting strong RB2 numbers.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints (ADP RB49; FF RB28). A perennial disappointment, Ingram is currently listed as the Saints' starting RB. With Darren Sproles gone, and playing for a free agent contract, he’s absolutely worth a late-round flier. His upside is high in this offense.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos (ADP WR28; FF WR19). The ex-Steeler steps into the lucrative role vacated by Eric Decker, who is not blessed with Sanders’ speed or overall skill set. Peyton Manning has made stars of lesser talents (see Decker, Eric).

Kenny Stills, WR, Saints (ADP WR 51; FF WR32). With Lance Moore and Sproles both out of the picture, Stills will get his chance to shine opposite Marques Colston. Look for a quantum leap in production for the talented wideout, assuming he can put his preseason quadriceps injury behind him. Brandin Cooks is actually being drafted higher than Stills thanks to a stellar training camp, but don’t fall for the rookie hype.

Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers (ADP WR57; FF WR38). The second-year speedster is already listed as the starter opposite Antonio Brown, now that Sanders has moved on. Wheaton is a gifted athlete with great hands, and he should benefit from opponents’ focus on Brown.

Jarrett Boykin, WR, Packers (ADP WR54; FF WR42). Boykin put up some impressive numbers in 2013 when Randall Cobb was lost and before Aaron Rodgers went down. With James Jones now wearing a Raiders uniform, the third-year receiver has some serious breakout potential as the Packers' third wideout.


Next week: My oft-imitated, always controversial, yet magically delicious Perfect Draft.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2014 Positional Rankings (Round 1) are now available

Okay, it's time to get serious now.

I've just completed the first round of my 2014 Rankings by Position: QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs, Ks, DSTs and Top 100.

As usual, my rankings are based on each player's projected position by the end of the 2014 season. It's a value ranking, NOT a recommended draft order.

Check them out here: http://www.scribd.com/collections/5242598/Fantasy-Fool-s-2014-Positional-Rankings

I'll update them no later than Tuesday through the preseason. I hope you find them helpful in your draft preparation.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Preseason column #2: Rookie Class of 2014

Five rookies made impressive debuts during the 2013 season, with four freshman tailbacks finishing the year among the Top 20. Eddie Lacy was the cream of the crop, but LeVeon Bell, Giovani Bernard and Zac Stacy also contributed meaningfully to their fantasy squads.

Keenan Allen was the only rookie receiver worth owning, which is one more than the quarterback and tight end positions had to offer. Geno Smith, anyone?

So what are we to make of this year’s newcomers?  

Remember that when evaluating the fantasy potential of any rookie, talent is rarely the most decisive factor. More relevant is the opportunity presented to the player, which is also a multi-faceted equation.

Does the rookie have a clear path to a starting gig? Will he join a high-powered offense, or one whose punter is its most lethal weapon? Is he healthy heading into the season, or has he missed invaluable preseason reps due to nagging injuries?

With these variables in mind, let’s examine the Class of 2014 and assess its members’ likelihood of shining during their inaugural seasons.

GIVE THEM A CHANCE – These four should be on your draft day radar.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans. Only Shonn Greene stands between the Washington standout and a starting job. Sankey is neither exceptionally fast nor powerful, but he is a versatile runner with good hands. He could yield goal-line touches to Greene and/or Jackie Battle, so don’t invest a premium pick.

Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers. Johnny Manziel made him a rich man in just one season, and Josh McCown can now make him a star. The 6’5” 230-pound wideout should be a red-zone beast and will benefit from frequent double coverage on Vincent Jackson. He’s my preseason pick for Rookie of the Year.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills. The fourth overall pick out of Clemson will be a Day One starter; and with Stevie Johnson now a 49er, Watkins should quickly become E.J. Manuel’s favorite target. The quarterback’s development will be the rookie’s biggest hurdle, along with the Bills’ run-centric offense.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers. No team needs a young wideout to produce immediately more than Carolina. Cam Newton has an entirely fresh cast of receivers this year, so the first-round pick will have ample opportunities to shine. Benjamin is recovering from a minor knee injury and has late-round flier written all over him.

LOOK, BUT DON’T TOUCH – It’s important to know these guys, just in case they soar more quickly than expected.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns. Everybody has an opinion about Johnny Football, and someone in your league is sure to draft him several rounds too high. Of course he’ll win Cleveland’s starting job, but with a dearth of receivers and a steep learning curve, his fantasy exploits will be few and far between this year.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings. The starting job is his for the taking, but he has a lot to prove before he’ll be worth fantasy consideration.

Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals. Assuming he overtakes BenJarvis Green-Ellis sooner than later, Hill will become Giovani Bernard’s insurance policy. He also could be a goal-line poacher in his backup role.

Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers. The Ohio State bruiser should start the season as Frank Gore’s backup, though LaMichael James (elbow) will try to wrest the spot away upon his return. Nevertheless, if the 31-year-old Gore goes down, Hyde is arguably the best equipped to step into the lead role.

Andre Williams, RB, Giants. Likely to win the backup job behind Rashad Jennings, Williams may also get plenty of goal-line work. But he’s not a receiving threat and his blocking ability is suspect.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons. If he moves past Jacquizz Rodgers on the depth chart, he’ll have potential value as Steven Jackson’s handcuff.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints. He is unlikely to win a starting job this year, but should be on the field plenty. Even so, rookie wideouts rarely produce big numbers in New Orleans. Cooks is more likely to emerge in his sophomore year, while Kenny Stills gets his chance this season.

Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars. The USC product should work his way into the starting lineup quickly, but this is Jacksonville. His ceiling is low.

Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles. With Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper manning the outside, Matthews is projected to play in the slot. Barring an injury, the second-round pick from Vanderbilt is unlikely to produce consistently in his rookie campaign.

Odel Beckham, Jr, WR, Giants. He’ll spend his rookie season playing understudy to Victor Cruz and Reuben Randle in an offense that struggled mightily in 2013. The Giants have high hopes for the former LSU star, but he will have little value in redraft leagues. A preseason hamstring injury isn’t helping.

Cody Latimer, WR, Broncos. Big and fast, Latimer couldn’t have gone to a more receiver-friendly team. That said, he has a talented trio of wideouts ahead of him, so his opportunities will be limited. Check back next year.

Eric Ebron, TE, Lions. Detroit didn’t spend the 10th overall pick on a tight end they don’t intend to use. But Brandon Pettigrew is still in the picture, meaning Ebron is likely to be brought along slowly. He should not be selected in redraft leagues, but keep him on the radar as a potential mid-year acquisition.

Nate Freese, K, Lions. Assuming he wins the kicking competition, Freese will be the mop-up man for Detroit’s high-powered offense. He could prove to be a mid-season waiver wire gem.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sporting News Mock Draft #2

The Sporting News Fantasy Source experts held our second mock draft of the preseason Monday night. You can see the rundown of the top five rounds, with commentary on each pick, here.

I got stuck with the dreaded 12th pick, and I didn't like the way it turned out. Here's my complete lineup:

Pick 1.12: Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys -- Love him

Pick 2.1: Arian Foster, RB, Texans -- Scared of him

Pick 3.12: Reggie Bush, RB, Lions -- Wish this was a PPR league

Pick 4.1: Nick Foles, QB, Eagles -- My new BFF

Pick 5.12: Wes Welker, WR, Broncos -- Great numbers, better commercials

Pick 6.1: Roddy White, WR, Falcons -- No more Gonzo, more work for Roddy

Pick 7.12: Fred Jackson, RB, Bills -- If CJ gets traded, I'm a genius

Pick 8.1: Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins -- Waited too long for a TE

Pick 9.12: Kenny Stills, WR, Saints -- Hopefully Brees takes a shine to him

Pick 10.1: Danny Amendola, WR, Patriots -- Yeah, I know

Pick 11.12: Andre Brown, RB, Texans -- Arian's handcuff; will be needed

Pick 12.1: Seattle defense -- Cream o' the crop

Pick 13.12: Steve Smith, WR, Ravens -- Plenty of upside for 13th round pick

Pick 14.1: Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers -- It's not like Carolina has any receivers

Pick 15.12: Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers -- Since when did he become worthless?

Pick 16.1: John McCown, QB, Bucs -- Now I have both of last year's surprise QBs

Pick 17.12: Dan Bailey, K, Cowboys -- So good, he even does funny fantasy football videos

Hey, it's still early...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Preseason Column #1: Old faces in new places

Quick: Name Cam Newton’s new starting wideouts. Who’s expected to be the workhorse rusher in Jacksonville? How about Cleveland? Whose jersey is Stevie Johnson wearing now?

How well have you been paying attention this offseason? Not being much of a baseball, hockey or hoops fan, I tend to focus more than most people on things like NFL free agency moves, and I even keep a tracker on my Fantasy Fools blog. But until I started writing this column, I would have been hard pressed to pass a quiz on the 60-plus fantasy-relevant players that switched zip codes this year.

And while this year’s merry-go-round spun no more quickly than in recent years, there’s one thing we can always count on: Precious few players have boosted their fantasy stock by moving to a new team.

Last year, only Alex Smith and Anquan Boldin measurably improved their fortunes in different uniforms. (Phil Dawson and Josh Brown moved up the kicker ranks, but do they even count?) A few others, like Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Ivory and Greg Jennings got modest bumps, but were mediocre contributors at best. Meanwhile, following the historic trend, the list of team-swapping disappointments was exhaustive.

So as we survey the NFL’s continuously shifting landscape, we are justifiably pessimistic about most of the carpetbaggers’ prospects. Here’s a quick look at the most significant offseason moves of 2014, broken down by the projected impact on each player’s fantasy value.

MOVIN’ ON UP Look for improved production from these five.

Josh McCown, QB, Buccaneers – One of last year’s biggest surprises earned himself a starting job down south. If he can develop a rapport with his new receiving corps, McCown could solidify his unlikely role as a fantasy stalwart.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars – No longer Adrian Peterson’s perennial handcuff, Gerhart will be given every opportunity to breathe life into the Jaguars’ offense. He’s a solid rusher and receiver, so don’t be surprised if he finally emerges as a fantasy force.

Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants – He showed flashes of brilliance during his tenure in Oakland, and the starting job is his to lose in New York. If David Wilson (neck) can’t get back on the field, only rookie Andre Williams will stand in Jennings’ way. Temper your expectations, but the former Raider and Jag could be a salty RB3.

Ben Tate, RB, Browns – While Cleveland feigns competition at the QB position, the real battle is playing out between Arian Foster’s former backup and rookie Terrance West. Tate has a spotty injury history, but there’s upside here should he emerge as the lead tailback.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos – Ka-ching! Sanders has the talent to fill Eric Decker's shoes, and Peyton Manning can make him a star. Nobody’s fantasy stock has soared so dramatically.


COMIN’ BACK DOWN These players will be hard-pressed to match last year’s results.

Matt Schaub, QB, Raiders – Traded by the Texans for a sixth-round pick, it’s hard to imagine Schaub getting his mojo back in Oakland.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Dolphins – Even before worries arose over his injured knee, I would’ve bet my retirement fund (meager as it is) that Moreno would never approach his 2013 stats in Miami.

Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles – As long as LeSean McCoy is healthy, Sproles’ role will be minimal.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Raiders – It’s only a matter of time before Darren McFadden’s next injury, but MJD is clearly not the runner he once was. I’ll pass, thank you.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Steelers – He won’t get the chance to soar like he did in New England as long as Le'Veon Bell remains intact.

Eric Decker, WR, Jets – Left Denver for a big contract in New York, and POOF goes his fantasy value.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins – His presence boosts Robert Griffin III’s chances of a rebound, but Jackson won’t flirt with elite status again playing second fiddle to Pierre Garcon. 

Stevie Johnson, WR, 49ers – The No. 3 receiver in San Francisco’s offense is no place to build your fantasy portfolio.

James Jones, WR, Raiders – Swaps Aaron Rodgers for Matt Schaub. How do you think that’s going to work out for him? Exactly.

Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Panthers – Arguably the least talented No. 1 receiver in the league, he’ll be no better than a WR4 in most fantasy leagues – and that’s assuming he keeps his starting gig.


CALL IT A WASH For better or worse, these players should post comparable results to last season.

Mike Vick, QB, Jets – They say he won't start over Geno Smith, but we'll see how many interceptions (and losses) it takes to shake that commitment.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Texans – Set free by the Titans, it’s hard to foresee greatness in Fitzpatrick’s future in Houston.

Chris Johnson, RB, Jets – It’s been five years since he earned the CJ2K designation, but it’s been all downhill since then. With Chris Ivory expected to vulture the goal-line touches, Johnson’s days as a fantasy starter may be numbered.

Steve Smith, WR, Ravens – After a down year in 2013, the aging playmaker will be hard pressed to resurrect his career a second time.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Colts – Nagging injuries have limited Nicks’ production over the last two seasons and now he’ll have to fight Reggie Wayne and TY Hilton for attention.

Golden Tate, WR, Lions – We’ve been waiting for years for a dynamic complement to Calvin Johnson in Detroit’s pass-happy offense. Still waiting…

Miles Austin, WR, Browns – The former Cowboy will try to plug the holes in Cleveland's receiver corps, with or without two hamstrings. Good luck with that.


OFF THE RADAR – These players are likely to be written about only in the past tense from now on. 

QBs: Mark Sanchez (Eagles), Blaine Gabbert (49ers), Terrelle Pryor (Seahawks).

RBs: Jonathan Dwyer (Cardinals), Donald Brown (Chargers), Andre Brown (Texans), Dexter McCluster (Titans), Rashard Mendenhall (Ret.), Willis McGahee (FA).

WRs: Mike Williams (Bills), Jason Avant (Panthers), Lance Moore (Steelers), Nate Burleson (Browns), Andre Roberts (Redskins), Brandon LaFell (Patriots), Santonio Holmes (FA), Sidney Rice (Ret.).

TEs: Owen Daniels (Ravens), Brandon Myers (Bucs).

Ks: David Akers (FA), Rob Bironas (FA), Garrett Hartley (FA).

Next week: A look at the 2014 Rookie Class.


Ladd Biro was named Football Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for two consecutive years (2010, 2011) and was a finalist again in 2013.  Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).


Friday, July 25, 2014

Disgusted by NFL's views on domestic violence? PUT RICE ON ICE

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell just made a historically inept and unconscionable blunder, imposing a paltry two-game suspension on Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. I'm writing to ask the fantasy football community to join me in doing something about it.

Rice, as you no doubt have heard and seen, was accused not just of striking his then-fiance, but of knocking her out cold in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino. The immediate aftermath of that incident was caught on video, as Rice is clearly seen dragging her limp body out of the elevator.

Watch it here.

I don't know any self-respecting man who isn't disgusted by Ray Rice's alleged (wink wink) behavior. Except, apparently, Commissioner Goodell. 

What's nearly as appalling as this act of violence is the punishment handed down by the league: Rice will sit out just two games.

Two games!

Get caught taking Adderall or smoking pot, and the Commissioner will suspend you for four games. Get caught again, and plan on missing half a year. Browns WR Josh Gordon -- clearly, a very troubled young man, if not a complete idiot -- is facing a year-long ban for repeated use of marijuana, a practice that is now perfectly legal in Colorado and Washington state.

An NFL player punches a woman so hard that she loses consciousness gets a two-week unpaid vacation.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
I'm sorry, but that is incomprehensible to me.

So what can you and I do about it? Frankly, not much. 

But 25 million of us fantasy football enthusiasts -- 90% of whom are guys -- can send a message to the league that we believe domestic violence has no place in our society.  And if the Commissioner won't take a stand, we will.

Join me in boycotting Ray Rice in your draft this year. Make a pact with your league-mates that Rice will be persona non grata. Designate him as ineligible for the draft and for waiver wire pickups the entire season. Compete without him, just as the Ravens should be doing.

Purely symbolic? Absolutely.

Will it make a difference? Let's see.

PUT RICE ON ICE. DON'T PLAY WITH RAY.

Tell the world: Real men don't hit women. Ever. And real leagues don't tolerate men who do.

I pledge to use my powers of persuasion to convince the four leagues in which I play to make Ray Rice ineligible in 2014.

Will you join me?




Monday, July 21, 2014

This year, draft better...

Looking for a better place to hold your draft this year?

If you have a Brick House Tavern + Tap nearby, I highly recommend it. Much better food and drink options, extremely comfy seating and plenty of room to spread out your Fantasy Fools cheat sheets!

Here's a video my marketing agency created for them. Alas, if only I could share the uncut version with you. Some pretty funny lines were left on the editing room floor in an effort to keep it respectable...

Even so, I think you'll enjoy. Please feel free to share it with your fantasy friends as well.

And remember...This Year, Draft Better…at Brick House Tavern + Tap!