By Tony James
It’s that time of year again. The weather gets a bit cooler, kids return to school and the rest of us prepare our minds and bodies for football. No, not playing football—elite athletes do that. I’m talking about fantasy football, the true test of a man’s heart and genius.
This article will give you a picture of who you may be able to steal early in your fantasy football draft this year, or, if you’ve drafted already, who you can pick up on the waiver wire now before they make a giant impact and disappear to another competitor before your eyes.
Depending on the size of your league and scoring rules, RB could be the thinnest of all positions and the most important to grab early and for depth. Although there are rare exceptions, generally speaking you need at least one good RB to win any league. With more and more “RB by committee” teams the pack of workhorse backs continues to dwindle. The key to becoming a consistent champion (like me) is spotting and nabbing RBs that emerge due to injury, opportunity or are poised for a breakout year. It is important to claim them now or at your draft so you’re not in a bidding war or relying on waiver-wire priority. Here are some breakouts and sleepers to target in 2015:
1. Lamar Miller, Miami - Miller is poised to have a fantastic season. Ryan Tannehill is progressing as a QB, producing solid stats and improving year after year. Lamar Miller will be a top 8 RB this year in that Miami offense, so don’t be afraid to reach for him if needed.
2. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay - Martin is quietly going in the sixth to eighth round of most mock drafts at this point, which is an absolute steal. Martin is shifty and fast. His down year last year was ended by injury, but he has great RB1 potential. Add in the WR corps and a rookie QB that is adept at moving the sticks for first downs, Martin could see top 15 production easily.
3. Tre Mason, St. Louis - Yeah, yeah Todd Gurley is everyone’s sweetheart, but he’s out for half the fantasy season. So why not get a bell cow RB in the sixth/seventh round that is going to eat carries and gain yards? Tre is a solid choice, and with Zac Stacy gone, the RB situation is a whole lot clearer now. Take Tre with confidence and nab Gurley for your fantasy title run.
1. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit - Raise your hand if you expect Joique Bell to be healthy all year. Me neither. Grab Abdullah, who doesn’t have breakout speed, but is quick and has superb vision and instincts. He looks like an elite RB when he has the ball in his hands.
2. David Johnson, Arizona - I’m from Iowa, so take this with a grain of salt, but Northern Iowa rookie David Johnson is the real deal. He’s Andre Ellington, but bigger, stronger and just as fast. Touches will split between 2-3 backs in Arizona for a few weeks, but come Week 6 or 7 look for the ex-Panther to emerge.
3. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta - When checking the weather for a sleeper, look for RBs with a great passing offense and no set starter. Voila, here’s the Atlanta Falcons. Freeman is small, and Antone Smith showed flashes, but look for the best athlete and true runner to emerge here—Tevin Coleman.
This year is strange for WRs. A lot of the elite WRs in years past are either injured/returning from injury, with sub-standard QBs, or have been passed on depth charts. While there is a handful of elite WRs available, the key to a title is getting those WR2/WR3/Flex positions to produce consistently for you. Below are the guys you need to target to have a solid WR corps top to bottom.
1. Jarvis Landry, Miami - See a theme here with Miami Dolphins? Tannehill needs someone to throw the ball to, and Hartline has left town. Landry has a veteran and an upstart opposite him, a strong running back, and a Pro Bowl tight end. This is going to be a big year for Landry, get him in Rounds 4-5 and feel confident.
2. Charles Johnson, Minnesota - This is everyone’s favorite darling, and for good reason. He’s got great chemistry with Teddy “Two Gloves” Bridgewater, and AP’s going to force defenses to play Johnson straight up. Expect strong numbers here from a guy you can grab in Rounds 6-7.
3. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh - The Steelers throw, and the Steelers score. Antonio Brown will start to draw more and more attention now that he’s a breakout superstar, freeing up Bryant to shine. You can get this guy in Rounds 7-8 and expect WR2 production. It’s a no-brainer.
1. Ruben Randle, NY Giants - With OBJ one-handing everything in sight, and Victor Cruz coming off an injury, Randle has a chance to emerge and get great WR3/Flex numbers for you. Eli Manning is a lock for 4,000 yards (no less than 3,818 the last six seasons), and they have to go somewhere. Expect 900 and seven TDs from Randle.
2-3. Forgotten stars - What a weird year. You’re telling me Larry Fitzgerald is a No. 3 WR I can draft late, Reggie Wayne may be a WR pickup off waivers with Tom Brady throwing to him, and Michael Crabtree is a No. 2 WR behind a rookie? Throw in Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston, and you have a plethora of guys you may be able to use at WR3/flex that we KNOW have the ability to be a WR1.
The Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy, QBs get no respect. That’s because the difference between QB1 and QB12 isn’t as large as the skill position players, so there is a feeling of “next man in.” However, this couldn’t be further from the truth—a consistent strong QB is essential for a fantasy title. And, with more 2QB leagues popping up, picking a backup QB or QB2 is a necessary evil. Below are the QBs that can help make impacts.
1. Ryan Tannehill, Miami - Those that had Tannehill the last two years as their starting quarterback in fantasy probably made good playoff runs or won titles. This year you should be able to start him with confidence in any league format due to the reasons and weapons I’ve discussed above.
2. Carson Palmer, Arizona - Palmer has been serviceable as a QB the past few seasons when healthy. If the offensive line can keep him healthy, we know the defense and special teams can keep opponents in check. With weapons all over, feel free starting Palmer in deeper or two QB leagues.
1. Derek Carr, Oakland - Carr has upgrades at the WR position and RB depth in 2015. If he continues the improvement he showed in 2014, the Raiders can become a relevant fantasy option again, and he could be a serviceable bye week or QB2 on a roster.
2. Matt Cassel, Buffalo - If trapped in a corner, I’ll tell you I’ll go with Cassel in a pinch. He is a veteran QB with new explosive weapons and a defense that will give him the ball in good field position an above-normal amount of times per game. I’ll take my chances with the extra possessions and hope I get enough to win in two QB leagues.