By Matt Rogers
PSDC Fantasy Expert
Greetings, Project Shanks Nation!
The NFL Draft is in the books. Teams have had a first look at their new blood in rookie mini-camps. Now it is time to exhale, relax and consider what we all really care about. Which of these rookies will help us win our fantasy football league this year? That is the burning question. That is my cue. I am Project Shanks’ fantasy expert, here with the ointment of knowledge to cool that burning sensation. I’m here to tell you who will help you win and who will help the other guys lose. By all accounts this draft was better than last year, but looks can be deceiving when it comes to fantasy football. So, shall we begin?
I want to get this out of the way up front, just so there is no mistake. The 2014 quarterback class is much better than the lame ducks that were launched last year. There is no debate. However, that does not mean this year’s class will match that of 2012. There are some good players here, but none are on par with Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. The NFL adjusts quickly and the read option guys are no longer a mystery. No Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick wannabe will surprise anyone this year. That is not to say some of these guys can rise to that level. That is just to say none will do it right out of the gate.
Write this on a big sticky note and put it somewhere you will find it in a couple of months when we all start forming our fantasy war room. None of these rookies should be your number one fantasy QB. NONE OF THEM! If you are in a 10, 12, 14 or even 16 team league, you should not have any of this year’s class as your starter. If you are in a weird 10-team, two starting QB league, then yes, you should have one of these guys. If you are in a keeper or dynasty league, then yes, you should consider one of these guys. They simply hold no more than back up, bye week filler, value in standard re-draft leagues.
Here is a look at the top prospects from this year’s crop of QBs.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN: Bridgewater has the best chance of all rookie QBs to start in week one and has the best assortments of weapons. The Vikings must try to win now in order to keep AP happy and their other options, Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, have already proven they cannot get the job done. He shouldn’t be used as anything more than a bye week filler, unless your starter gets hurt.
2014 Fantasy Projection: QB2 in all but 10 team, two QB leagues.
2. Johnny Manziel, CLE: Don’t misunderstand, Johnny Football is the best QB in this class and should be the top QB taken in all keeper and dynasty leagues. For redraft leagues, he has slightly less value than Bridgewater because there is no rush for Cleveland to start him and he has fewer weapons at his disposal. He may not take the reins until week five, just in time to cover some bye weeks.
2014 Fantasy Projection: QB2 in all but 10 team, two QB leagues.
3. Blake Bortles, JAX: If the Jags have any expectation of Bortles becoming their franchise QB, they will let him sit behind Chad Henne this year. Jacksonville simply has no positives to list. Justin Blackmon remains suspended indefinitely because he likes weed. Toby Gerhart replaces MJD as the feature back. Stop laughing. Two of the top three WRs are rookies. If Bortles starts this year, it will be ugly, ugly, ugly!
2014 Fantasy Projection: If you have to use him you are probably screwed.
4. Derek Carr, OAK and 5. Tom Savage, HOU: Both of these guys have a veteran and a sophomore with game experience in front of them. They shouldn’t play unless it happens very late in the year when these teams are eliminated from playoff contention and are trying to see what they have. Carr may have more of a chance along those lines than Savage, but there is no reason either should be in your line up.
2014 Fantasy Projection: If you have to use one of these guys you are definitely screwed.
The NFL is moving more and more toward a pass oriented league and running backs just aren’t what they used to be. There are very few three down workhorses left in this league and none of the rookies fit that mold. Virtually every team is splitting the RB work load to use multiple players. Receiving slash backs get a ton of touches in the run and pass game while power backs steal the goal line work. Which of the rookie RBs drafted this year fit a role where they can produce enough to help a fantasy team win? There is some help to be had here but none of these guys should be your primary option.
1. Bishop Sankey, TEN: Don’t feel bad if you never heard of this kid. It says a lot about this draft and the RB position that 53 guys were drafted before Sankey became the first RB taken. The Titans let Chris Johnson go and are content to have this second rounder replace a large chunk of CJ’s time share with Shon Greene. Sankey is in line for the largest workload of all rookie RBs this year. So give him a shot.
2014 Fantasy Projection: Maybe RB1 territory in big leagues if the gets the CJ portion of the time share.
2. Jeremy Hill, CIN: Geovanni Bernard should take over for Cincy as the primary RB leaving Hill to fight with veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis for goal line work. Early projections have the rookie surpassing BGE, but I have to see it before I believe it. Regardless of who ends up where on the depth chart, all three of these guys will probably see game action given they play in the toughest division in the AFC.
2014 Fantasy Projection: RB3 but could rise to RB2 if either veteran is injured and misses time.
3. Terrance West, CLE: I love Ben Tate and hate that he left Houston. He is a talented runner but has missed his fair share of games due to injury. Given that and the fact that the AFC North is tough on RBs, I am one of the many astute fantasy football guys looking at West to get some game action for the Browns. Go ahead and laugh, but remember the Browns have pro bowlers on the offensive line.
2014 Fantasy Projection: RB4 but I’m not sure if he can pass protect enough to play on third down.
4. Tre Mason, STL: Some folks thought Mason might be the first RB off the board, but the NFL has changed. The Rams cut Daryl Richardson after the draft signaling they believe Mason and Benny Cunningham will provide adequate depth behind starter Zac Stacy. He could end up No. 2 on the Rams depth chart. So there is potential for Mason to emerge as a 10-15 touch a week player.
2014 Fantasy Projection: RB 4-5 it just depending on how many touches he gets.
5. Pick ‘em: The rest of this rookie RB class is basically handcuffs or investments for keeper or Dynasty leagues. If you have Adrian Peterson, draft Jerick McKinnon. If you have Matt Forte, draft Ka’Deem Carey. Tyler Gaffney is behind a group of injury prone runners in Carolina. Storm Johnson could get some work in Jacksonville given the question marks in front of him. Basically, everyone else is a reach.
This position has been highly accepted as the jewel of the draft class. Five guys were drafted on the first day and a total of 15 were off the board before day two ended. There could be up to seven rookie WRs listed in the top three on their team’s depth chart with at least two being the big dog. A few others find themselves joining some of the most pass happy teams in all of football. So, unless you are in a league that just hates WRs, you can find a lot of help here. That goes for redraft leagues of all sizes, keepers and dynasty leagues. A couple of these guys border on WR1 talent and won’t last long in your draft.
1. Sammy Watkins, BUF: This should come as no surprise. The Bills traded up to take Watkins then followed that up by trading their best WR, Stevie Johnson, to the West Coast. The Bills had serious QB issues last year and even started their water boy for a week or two. So there is some concern as to who will get Watkins the ball. Watkins is gifted enough to make a QB look good, maybe even EJ Manuel.
2014 Fantasy Projection: WR1-2 you probably only want him as your No. 1 in a 16 or 18 team league.
2. Kelvin Benjamin, CAR: Benjamin may not be as ready as Watkins, but he has little choice as he will be starting for the Panthers. With Cam’s other targets being old guys like Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, Benjamin may find himself being targeted early and often. The sheer volume of passes going his way should be enough for him to emerge as a valuable fantasy contributor throughout the year.
2014 Fantasy Projection: WR2-3 I only want him as my No. 2 in very deep leagues.
3. Brandin Cooks, NO: When the Saints traded up to get Cooks, I started drooling and wondered where I would put him on my draft board. The Saints lost Darren Sproles and Lance Moore without otherwise replacing them. Jimmy Graham’s situation is unresolved, and Marques Colston looked old last year. However, Drew Brees is going to throw for 5,000 yards and 40 TDs. Expect Cooks to get in on the action.
2014 Fantasy Projection: WR2-3 I probably take him over Benjamin, but that’s just me.
4. Mike Evans, TB: Josh McCown blew up last year while Jay Cutler was injured. That earned him a shot to start for Tampa Bay. With Vincent Jackson on the other side of the field, Evans isn’t likely to see double teams. Anyone who saw how McCown used Alshon Jeffery last year should have a pretty good idea of what is possible for Evans. There is no WR depth and a rookie at TE as well. So Evans will be huge.
2014 Fantasy Projection: WR2-3 I love this kid and think he landed in a great spot.
5. Odell Beckham, Jr., NYG: Other WRs will be picked higher. Take Beckham and laugh at the other guys. Eli Manning is unpredictable but has occasional great years. Beckham will be his second option to Victor Cruz and should thrive in the role. As an added bonus, Beckham may end up being the Giants kick returner. I’m already seeing this guy get overlooked in dynasty rookie drafts. So you may get him cheap.
2014 Fantasy Projection: WR3 could slip into WR2 range if he returns kicks and your league is deep.
Rest of the Best: This draft is so deep with WR talent. Here is a list of guys to target in the WR3-5 range.
Jordan Matthews, PHI; Marquise Lee, JAX; Cody Latimer, DEN; Davante Adams, GB; Jarvis Landry, MIA.
You should pay attention to three TEs that were taken in this year’s draft. If your league does not mandate a TE, these are unlikely to ever make it off the draft board. However, if your league mandates a TE and/or is very deep you may want to pick these guys up as they could sneak into TE1 range.
1. Jace Amaro, NYJ: I understand this is not the name most expected to see. Just hear me out. Amaro will start week one for the Jets. Sure they added Eric Decker to their WR line up, but Geno Smith is still the starting QB. Granted Mike Vick may replace him at some point, but there is no way Vick plays a majority of the games. So it is easy to envision Smith on the run, dinking and dunking to Amaro a lot.
2014 Fantasy Projection: TE2 he may slip to TE1 range if the Jets can get into the red zone to use him.
2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB: Again, I understand most guys are expecting to see another name here. I just think the Bucs will need to use their TE more than some other teams and they have little depth behind this rookie. Opposing secondaries will have to pay a lot of attention to Jackson and Evans while keeping an eye on Doug Martin coming out of the back field. Seferian-Jenkins may be targeted by default.
2014 Fantasy Projection: TE2 he should be a good back up and spot starter.
3. Eric Embron, DET: OK, this is the guy most of you expected to see at the top of the list. There is no doubt he is the most talented TE in the class and should be the top one taken in keepers and dynasty leagues. However, this year, in a redraft league, the Lions have so many other options there won’t be enough balls to go around for Embron. If someone gets hurt, his value may increase.
2014 Fantasy Projection: TE3-4 Megatron, Reggie Bush, Golden Tate, Brandon Pettigrew, etc.
For those of you who may be new to the program or who may have forgotten, I play in IDP leagues. So I don’t look at team defenses. I focus on Linebackers, Defensive Backs and to a lesser extend Defensive Linemen. If you are still such a novice that you play in leagues with team defenses, you can stop reading now. This next section is for the big boys who play in leagues where you actually have to know the players on the defensive side of the ball instead of just picking up units who play weak offensive teams.
Linebackers are generally the bread and butter of IDP scoring systems. If the IDP scoring system you play in is slanted more strongly toward tackles, you may win or lose based on the Linebackers you have. Even if your leagues uses a big play scoring system that awards more points for sacks, fumble recoveries and interceptions, Linebackers will be the big dogs in your line up. This year’s draft offered up quite a crop of talent at Linebacker and in IDP in general. I’ll do my best to enlighten you as to who will help you win.
1. CJ Mosely, BAL: Mosely will start next to Daryl Smith at middle linebacker for the Ravens. He is coming out of the SEC and is game ready for the NFL. Not only is he ready to contribute right now, but he also has the privilege of joining a franchise built around a focus of smart, hard-nosed defensive play. Mosely may be the quarterback of the defense within a couple of years. Raise your expectations.
2014 Fantasy Projection: LB1 a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year.
2. Ryan Shazier, PIT: Much like Mosely, Shazier joins a franchise founded on defense. Whether he starts inside or outside, he should flank Lawrence Timmons. So, second blockers will be more focused on the guy next to him. Shazier has LB1 potential and should follow in a long line of Steelers’ great LBs. Pairing him with an established IDP star like Luke Kuechly will set you up to score a lot of IDP points.
2014 Fantasy Projection: LB1-2 just depends on the size and scoring system of your league.
3. Khalil Mack, OAK: Up until the second Sammy Watkins name was called, I thought Buffalo had traded up for Mack. He may be a little higher on this list if he had gone to the Bills. I just have a hard time believing the Raiders can maximize his potential. Mack is an all-world talent and should be picked in all formats. He will be even better in a league that leans more toward big plays than tackles.
2014 Fantasy Projection: LB1-2 can’t miss, just wish he hadn’t ended up in Oakland.
4. Kyle Van Noy, DET: The Lions produced two top 15 LBs last year. Now they add Van Noy to the mix. Their front four is so nasty life is fairly easy for a Lions linebacker. Just hit anything that slips through. Van Noy could be a LB1 if he ends up playing middle linebacker, but he could lose some production if he ends up playing the weak side. Still, he is good guy to add late in drafts and may pay off bigger than expected.
2014 Fantasy Projection: LB2-3 starting position could determine how high he rises this year.
5. Chris Borland, SF: This pick is a reach and it may not flesh out until training camp. The 49ers need a one year fill in to replace that monster by the name of Navarro Bowman. Borland will have a chance to win that job in camp. If he wins the job, he can put up a ton of points. Winning the job also gives him an extended audition to be the future back up and maybe eventual replacement for Patrick Willis.
2014 Fantasy Projection: LB3-4 it all depends on him winning the job in camp.
In a league all about passing, quality cornerbacks and safeties are a premium commodity. They accumulate IDP points through tackles, picks and passes defended. It should shock no one that DBs flowed through this draft at a pace to keep up with their WR counterparts. The first three days of the NFL draft provided around eight or nine starting DBs with another three or four guys who should see action as their teams’ third CB or S. There may actually be more rookies starting in their NFL teams’ secondary than any other position in this draft. The same should apply to your fantasy teams.
1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, GB: More than just a fun name to say, this kid is probably the best safety in the draft. He will start for the Packers immediately and for a long time to come. He offers the best re-draft league potential and will only get better as time goes on. So he is a lock in keepers and dynasty leagues as well. Look for him to stalk RBs and tertiary receivers in the pass happy NFC North for a decade.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DB2-3 depending on your league scoring model.
2. Calvin Pryor, NYJ: People, myself included, like to make jokes about the Jets and Rex Ryan, but he has a knack for developing Free Safeties into both real world and fantasy beasts. The Pryor pick was clearly a gift from ownership to Ryan, and fantasy owners will reap the benefits. Expect Pryor to start immediately and produce for years. He plays like Bob Sanders but is bigger and hopefully more durable.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DB3-2 he and Clinton-Dix will probably play leap frog in points all year.
3. Kyle Fuller, CHI: This pick depends a lot on how training camp plays out. Fuller may supplant Tim Jennings as the second CB or may be in a three-man rotation with Jennings and Charles Tillman, if Peanut is slow to recover. Regardless, he will be on the field logging a bunch of playing time against pass oriented teams like the Packers and Lions. If he isn’t the best CB this year, he will be within the next two.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DB 4-3 depending on his playing time.
4. Justin Gilbert, CLE: Gilbert was the first DB taken in the draft and enters a good situation in Cleveland. He is expected to supplant Buster Skrine as the starter opposite of Joe Haden. His value depends on how often teams test him. The Browns play in a run heavy division. So Gilbert’s value may depend on him making big plays when he is tested. The Browns get no respect, but Gilbert should.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DB 4 will range higher against pass happy teams that throw his way.
5. Deone Buchanon, ARI: Buchanon has to win the starting job in camp or his production may be delayed. He may have the best long term value and teams should be concerned about facing Arizona’s defense. Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and now Buchanon should anchor a brutal and productive secondary in the desert for the next few years. The only question is whether or not he starts week one.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DB4 but could quickly become a DB3-2 if he opens as the starter.
Rest of the Best: As with WR, the talent is so deep at DB, I wanted to give you some other guys that could hit the DB 3-5 range.
Jimmie Ward, SF; Jason Verrett, SD; Darqueze Dennard, CIN; Lamarcus Joyner, STL; Terrence Brooks, BAL; Stanley Jean-Baptiste, NO because that other Ryan brother will tinker and find a way to play him.
Not every IDP league mandates the use of a DL. They are equivalent to the TE position on offense. These big guys are vital clogs in the real world but don’t get credited with many tackles as they generally herd the play toward the linebackers. So they don’t get a lot of love in IDP leagues. In big play leagues, the outside rushing sack men tend to rise above their brethren on the interior defensive line. Only true freaks of nature like JJ Watt make the cut in leagues that don’t mandate a DL. None of the rookies drafted this year fit that mold, but a few should garner attention in leagues that force teams to have a DL.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, HOU: The Texans made the right choice. Johnny Football would have filled seats, but defense wins championships. Whether they run a base 4-3 or 3-4, Clowney has the privilege of being on the opposite end of the line from the best defensive player on the planet. He may end up listed as a LB, but as long as he is a DL, use him as such. He will be much more valuable in big play leagues.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DL2 maybe DL1 depending on the size of your league, don’t draft him as a LB.
2. Aaron Donald, STL: Another rookie drafted in the seventh round got a lot more attention, but Donald steps into a starting gig in a front seven that rivals any team in the league. Robert Quinn emerged as one of the top Defensive Ends in the league last year, almost matching Watts’ production. With teams shifting the O-Line his direction and running away from him, Donald is in line to produce quality stats at the Tackle.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DL3-4 may have big weeks but is more a fill-in than anything.
3. Demarcus Lawrence, DAL: This guy has a long way to go in replacing the last Demarcus the Cowboys had playing rush end. That said the Cowboys defense was historically bad last year and there is nowhere for them to go but up. Lawrence has a chance to push double digit sacks, making him worth a look in big play leagues. Just don’t set the bar too high because the Cowboys’ defense still sucks.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DL4 may rise to DL3 in big play leagues if he can get to the QB.
4. Dominique Easley, NE: People tend to forget Belichick can coach up the defense as well as offense. The Patriots had two DLs finish in the top 5 in DL scoring last year. Easley will join the tackle rotation with Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly this year. He will be the new blood and freshest legs in this rotation. If he avoids mistakes, he stands a good chance of putting up quality points at a shallow position.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DL4 maybe better depending on how much playing time he gets.
5. Dee Ford, KC: Ford probably got screwed worse than any prospect due to the team that drafted him. The Chiefs have a great defense but no place at the table for Ford. As a DE in a 3-4, he won’t get to roam free and rush the QB. Until Tamba Hali and/or Justin Houston move on, freeing up a spot for Ford at OLB, he won’t have much value. Stash him on your bench or taxi squat in keepers and dynasty leagues.
2014 Fantasy Projection: DL5-6 unless an injury opens up an OLB spot for him.
There you have it my friends. This NFL draft was a good one. Now maybe you know a little more about how it will impact your quest for the Fantasy Football Title in your league later this year. There is a while for this to marinade while we get through all the offseason activities and enter training camp. Some camp battles and/or injuries will have a great impact on your final draft board. The best thing to do until then is stay focused and ready for anything. This is a different sport, but you have to watch for the curve ball nonetheless. As the heat rises so will the speculation and commentary on which teams are doing what.
So stay tuned to ProjectShanks.com as the summer creeps by and the football season approaches.
As usual, we will try to keep you informed, or at least mildly entertained.