It is that time of year again, folks.
We are three weeks away from the start of the NFL season but fantasy football is already in full swing. My trash talk game is already in midseason form so I’m good to go.
So I decided to start with who I feel are going to go next level this season for fantasy owners. I put some consideration into average draft position and things like that, but for the most part these are guys that will, by the end of this season, already be on your radar for 2015 because they will be that. Good.
Whatever you do, please don’t get suckered into thinking you have to change your strategy to get quality, championship winning players on your rosters. I can’t stress enough the art of really looking at what you’re getting and understanding that in a 10-team, standard league you can get draft-bargain superstars that will perform just as good, if not better than someone you overdraft for simply because you recognize their name (Reggie Wayne, I’m looking at you).
That said, let’s get to it …
- Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
Hard to consider an All-Pro in his rookie season a “breakout” but for fantasy purposes his production is about to become very relevant. An immediate rookie plug-in for me last year, Norv Turner in Minnesota helps, but his numbers in the last four games to close out 2013 (215 ReYds, 129 RuYds, 305 ReturnYds, 5 total touchdowns) make him prime to flourish in an offense intent on getting the ball in his hands as much as possible. Depending on your draft strategy you’re going to want to target him as a viable WR2/Flex option with potential to be a WR1 before all is said and done.
- Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
Here’s the thing about Ellington: he started one game in 2013 because the Cardinals were convinced that the general public needed to hear how healthy Rashard Mendenhall was, how improved Ryan Williams was going to be, and how promising Stepfan Taylor is. Anyone who watched college football and saw what Ellington did at Clemson knew he was the best of that bunch and he showed it every time he saw action. This year? He’s the man in Arizona, now; and his 1,023 total yards and four touchdowns only scratched the surface of what he can do in Bruce Arians offense. With him currently being ranked 20th among his position don’t be afraid to draft confidently knowing others might not grab him first. He’s RB1 with big time PPR value.
- Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
All signs out of training camp point toward a solid year for the second year receiver from the University of Tennessee. Showed flashes of what he was capable of late in the season but his role was that of third banana behind Kendall Wright and Nate Washington. This season he should be the undisputed number two receiver and if his four-catch, 111 yard, 2 touchdown performance in the Titans last preseason game is any indication they’re ready to utilize his ridiculously red-zone friendly size and frame more often in 2014. He’s a WR2/Flex that can be had at a bargain (ESPN ADP of 127)
- Joique Bell, Detroit Lions
Probably my favorite sleeper of 2014, analysis of his numbers from 2013 show a player who is a primed to insert himself into the RB1 conversation this season. Coming off a season in which he totaled close to 1,200 yards and had 8 total touchdowns Bell’s role is going to increase for two reasons: he’s the better running back and he can catch with the best of them. One of the theme’s of this list seems to be the impact an offensive coordinator will have on a players production. Joe Lombardi takes his prolific offense from New Orleans to Detroit, and what that means is Bell (even with Reggie Bush splitting touches) could sniff 1,100 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in this new system. Why the lofty expectations? Did I mention that Bell is the overall better running back? Don’t be shocked if he goes from top-20 to top-10 or -15 in a hurry. Best part? You can get him after running backs that might be valued too high (Toby Gerhart, anyone?). Even NFL.com has mock drafts that doesn’t have Bell in the top-50 picks. PPR stud, RB1 potential, RB2 at worse, definite coup as a Flex.
- Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Next in line to benefit from the “Norv Turner Effect,” Rudolph appears ready to get back to what a lot of us thought he was going to be after his Pro Bowl worthy 2012 in which he amassed 493 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was a forgotten man in the offense for most of last season which confused many, but that will change this season. The thing to remember about Norv Turner is that he loves big, athletic tight ends that create match up problems. He’s made a habit of taking those guys (which Kyle Rudolph is) and getting them to average 837 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 65 catches the last seven years. That gets you a top-5 player at tight end whose ADP is 104 per ESPN. Go get ’em, folks. Definite TE1.
- Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
One of two rookies who you will see on this list I think it is about time we recognize what Cooks will be capable of in 2014. The 5’10” rookie out of Oregon State has been absolutely electric during training camp and preseason and is absolutely a candidate to produce big year one in New Orleans. Why is he different from Tavon Austin? Like the other rookie on this list the Saints moved up in the first round (20th overall) to snag Cooks with the intention of giving him every opportunity to replace the 1,061 yards and 4 touchdowns that Darren Sproles and Lance Moore took with them to Pennsylvania. I think he showcases a better overall skill set for what the Saints want to do and I would not be surprised if he has some combination of 800+ receiving yards, 200 + rushing yards, and 6-8 touchdowns. That has the sound of a good WR3 or Flex option, to me.
- Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
That “other” rookie just happens to be my second favorite breakout for 2014. As most of you have probably read on this blog I like college football quite a bit, particularly SEC football where my beloved Georgia Bulldogs play. So what does that matter? Matthews played at Vanderbilt and was the offense for that team (He also set the all-time, SEC record for receptions and receiving yards… no biggie). He’s 6’3″, 212 lbs. and every advanced metric shows a route runner who is game ready yesterday. Plug him into the slot/WR2 position in the Eagles’ Chip Kelly led offense and what do you have? A potential fantasy stud. When the Eagles allowed Desean Jackson to walk in the offseason they acted quickly in the draft and moved up to snag Matthew’s early in the second round (42nd overall). Jackson produced a career year in this offense in 2013 (1,332 yards, 9 touchdowns) and with Matthews already being (in my opinion) the best receiver on the Eagles roster and stepping in for Desean Jackson don’t say I didn’t warn you when he eclipses what Keenan Allen did for the Chargers last year. Potential WR2, definite Flex.
- Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts
I can say this about Dwayne Allen: When you pass it to him, he’s going to catch it. In 2012 Allen caught close to 70% of his targeted passes for 521 yards and 3 touchdowns as a rookie. An injury during game one in 2013 cost him what would have been an expanded role and a breakout season. If he can stay healthy (and all signs point to it) look for him to be TE1 material for the Colts and for your fantasy team. 700+ yards and 7-9 touchdowns in a passing offense (and him being on the field the most due to his superior blocking) could net you a top-10 tight end even later than guys like Kyle Rudolph and Zach Ertz. Potential TE1, definite TE2.
- Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
How many of you honestly believe we’ve seen everything we can see from Golden Tate? Well if you raised your hand I wouldn’t blame you, but count me among those who can’t bring themselves to believe that yet. Last season (his best to date) he produced numbers that warranted opinion of him being skewed a bit. But this season what we have is a player who is no longer in a division with three of the top-15 (would have been top-10 had St.Louis’ secondary not been so leaky) defenses in football on his schedule six times a season. That is worth more than you think. I mean, when you really think about his numbers from last year (898 yards, 5 touchdowns) and factor in that he’s the number two option in Detroit, will benefit from the attention Calvin Johnson will obviously command, his schedule now includes six games against teams whose defenses ranked no higher than 25th overall, and his offensive coordinator is Joe Lombardi who knows a thing or two about passing you might want to reconsider where you value Tate. Potential 1,200 yards and 7 touchdowns could be in store for him. Possible WR1, solid WR2, great FLEX option.
- Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
They grow up fast, don’t they? A breakout rookie candidate for me in 2013 Bernard made good on a lot of fronts for fantasy owners. He finished in the top-25 at the position and now that he’s shown he can be the man in the backfield for Cincinnati he’s got top-15 potential (with a hint of top-12). He didn’t start any games last year and still totaled numbers worthy of an every week player for your fantasy team. Projecting him to finish with around 1,500 total yards as his workload is expected to increase (Green-Ellis won’t get 220 touches again this season). Has shown goal line ability which gives him 7-10 touchdown potential as long as Jeremy Hill and BenJarvis Green-Ellis don’t cut into too many of his opportunities. Solid RB1, great RB2, great FLEX option.