Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fantasy Football Gamebreakers

Gronk-tastic
Sleepers and busts populate Blogfrica, so I'm going to do something different here. I'm going to point out the handful of players who will decide your league, for good or ill.

QBs

Matthew Stafford. Not only is he going to make or break your investment in Calvin Johnson, he's either going to deliver top 3 value (inevitably, someone in the Brees-Rodgers-Peyton Manning triumvirate will either get hurt or ineffective, just because three sure bets don't all pay off), or be the guy who flamed out in the second half of 2014 and took teams down hard. My money's on the former, but this is an either/or.

Nick Foles. Guaranteed to throw more picks than 2013, but he's still not going too high as everyone seems to be overplaying the regression card. The NFC East is still a collection of powderpuff defenses, and it's possible that Year 2 will be smoother in some regrets. It's also possible that not having DeSean Jackson packs zones tight enough to make him ordinary, and the OL doesn't do as good of a job at keeping him clean. We know he's not beating teams with his legs.

Tony Romo. I'm scared as hell of a guy with a bad OL and recent back surgery, but there's no denying that he's got weapons and a defense that will make scoring 30 points a game a minimum requirement for victory. This could be a pinball game, or it could be a train wreck.

Jay Cutler. Kind of a safer version of Romo, but with two clear WR1 candidates and a top 5 RB behind him. If you owned Bear QB in 2013, you owned the best fantasy QB numbers (yes, even better than St. Peyton, who eased up a bit at the close). It's possible that he does it again, especially if the defense is another sieve, but his injury history isn't encouraging.

Cam Newton. A routine top 5 finisher at his position, due to his de facto status as Carolina's goal-line RB. This year is scary as hell from a health standpoint, and he's without longtime security blanket WR Steve Smith, but maybe new WRs Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Kelvin Benjamin give him better options.

RBs

Eddie Lacy. A first round pick and borderline top 5 selection in serpentine drafts, Lacy is aces on talent, young enough to still have ceiling, and tethered to Aaron Rodgers. But he's also injury prone, hasn't always shown exceptional conditioning, and plays for a team with a good enough idea on offense that a committee could spring up, especially in games where they have leads.

Montee Ball. Peyton Manning's RB is always a good idea... but only if he keeps the job. HC John Fox is partial to committees, and Ball showed enough warts in his rookie year (fumble prone, middling pass protection) that a slow start could make his role less than expected. If he keeps it, he could provide 1,500 yards and 15 TDs, because he's good in the passing game, too.

Andre Ellington. Electric talent with a pro coaching staff, but he's never had RB1 workloads before, plus he's got six games against the meat grinding defenses of Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis. He'll be available in the second, or even third, tier of RB1 candidates, but how he'll perform, no one really knows.

Arian Foster. A long-time history of top-shelf production, the defense could give him short fields, and his handcuff / rival Ben Tate is gone to Cleveland... but the outlook is terrible with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at the controls, and he's not getting any younger or healthier. I'm staying away, but many will not.

Steven Jackson. He's either going too early based on name recognition, or too late based on everyone liking his handcuff and/or thinking he's completely spent. For now, he's got the RB1 job in a good dome offense, a rebuilt offensive line, and has healthy WRs to keep the sticks moving. I got him for a crazy low price in my auction league, so I'm hoping like hell for over-production, but the chance of total evaporation is not minimal.

WRs

Brandon Marshall. The only clear WR1 with a similarly ranked teammate, Marshall has gone from enfant terrible on his third franchise to respected vet. If he keeps the clear alpha dog role, he'll pay off his draft position, but there's a real chance that he gets poached quite a lot by Alshon Jeffery between the 20s, and Martellus Bennett in the red zone.

Randall Cobb. Potentially the NFL's best slot machine, but slot machine has a lot of turnover from year to year, and Cobb's injury history is no longer clean. Jarrett Boykin's work last year also says that if he's not 100%, the team will happily sit and save him for the playoffs, the same way that Seattle did with Percy Harvin. Speaking of...

Percy Harvin. It's not as if Seattle is going to start throwing it all over the yard, not with that defense and running game... but it's not as if the QB is chopped liver either, and when Harvin is right, Seattle might start winning games faster and easier. Especially in head to head leagues, Harvin is going to ruin people, both for and against.

Pierre Garcon / DeSean Jackson. Both guys are going too early for my tastes -- QB Robert Griffin hasn't looked sharp, and the OL has been a train wreck -- but the most likely event here is that DC Unmentionable recovers against the cupcake division defenses, and Griffin finds a favorite. Garcon was only a WR1 last year on volume, and Jackson has always been boom-bust with shaky second halves, so it's a coin flip. One I won't be taking, but someone's going to win and lose this.

Julian Edelman. If you are right to believe in his talent and last year's production, you will receive Welkerish consistency in the yardage totals, and enough TDs to keep you from bitching too much about QB Tom Brady's red zone habits. If you are right to crap on his output, Danny Amendola finally stays healthy and poaches him, Aaron Dobson develops, Brandon LaFell carves out a role, Rob Gronkowski returns to rule the earth, and so on, and so on. Maybe the guy to own here is actually Brady.

TEs

Rob Gronkowski. This category has pretty much been Gronk's for years now. I don't ever see him putting together a truly healthy season again, and his coaching staff is going to try to time it for the playoffs. But when he's right, you've got the only guy that can realistically stand up to Jimmy Graham in a head to head battle.

Julian Thomas. Well, hang on... here's the other guy in the triumvirate, and there's profit potential as well as regression. The profit comes from the possibility that the departure of Eric Decker and Welker's recent concussion opens up more touchdown chances for the man. The regression comes from his occasionally sketchy hands, relative youth and inexperience to football, and basic fact that Peyton Manning likes to spread things around and has new guys to acclimate. You won't get him cheap, but he might outperform the slot.

Jordan Reed. The true Unmentionable to own in the second half of 2013 doesn't have to worry about Fred Davis any more, and bad QB play usually creates opportunities for the TE. But he's also got much more competition for catches this year, and history is littered with guys who can't step up to full-season numbers. I like his talent and situation, but this is far from a sure thing.

Kyle Rudolph. Big skills here, and last year's numbers were solid even with terrible QB play... but that terrible QB play actually helped Rudolph in some ways, since every pass for half a year was a checkdown, and he got a ton of targets. This year, the offense has to be more diversified, which could mean fewer targets, but more shots in the red zone. There's also the inevitability of regime change at QB, so no matter what happens with Rudolph this year, he's always going to be in the news.

Charles Clay. Last year's waiver wire second-tier TE1 has battled injuries in training camp, and is a clear target for regression on the TD catches. On the other hand, new OC Bill Lazor is a tempo pusher with TE love, and QB Ryan Tannehill trusts him. He was the team's best short-yardage back in 2013, which isn't going to happen again in 2014.There's a possibility that this all boils down to the same production, but in dramatically different ways. For my money, I think he's got a great chance to be on a lot of winning teams, but regime change and the injuries also means he could flat out disappear, especially if the OL needs him to stay back and block.

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