Fantasy Football 2014: Who Gets the Edge in These Elite WR Duos?

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Fantasy Football 2014: Who Gets the Edge in These Elite WR Duos?
USA TODAY Sports

For teams with multiple elite wide receivers, which player holds the greater fantasy value in 2014? Chicago Bears perennial touchdown-machine Brandon Marshall or 2013 breakout beast Alshon Jeffery? How about Green Bay Packers studs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb—who deserves higher billing in fantasy drafts this year?

In today’s pass-happy NFL, there is a greater likelihood for a team to have more than one wide receiver capable of top-level production in the same season. For the purposes of fantasy football, an owner’s season could hinge on the decision to choose one player over the other to be their No. 1 receiver for the year.

Should you go with the savvy and consistent veteran likely nearing the end of his prime or the young and athletic freak poised to enter his prime?

It may appear that you cannot go wrong with either selection. However, try to tell that to those who drafted Miles Austin over Dez Bryant in 2012 in an attempt to “play it safe” with the more dependable receiver. One player finished the season top five in fantasy wide receiver scoring (non-PPR), while the other finished outside the top 25.

This year, it seems more than ever that there is not a clear consensus in the fantasy community which of a team’s elite receivers should be rated higher come draft day. To decipher the better value pick, let’s take an in-depth look at two of the NFL’s most dominant wide receiver duos.

 

JORDY NELSON vs. RANDALL COBB

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is fully healthy, and two of the Packers’ key receiving options from recent years, wide receiver James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley, are no longer with the team. This leaves Nelson and Cobb as Rodgers’ primary targets—two players whom have proven capable of No. 1 fantasy wide receiver production.

Assuming Rodgers and Cobb have both recovered from injuries that kept the two star Packers off the field a combined 17 games in 2013, the connection between the 2011 MVP quarterback and his top wideouts should be fun to watch in 2014.

The question is who, Cobb or Nelson, deserves to be selected first in fantasy drafts this year?

 

In this corner: JORDY NELSON

Nelson’s fantasy stock dropped precipitously before the 2013 season. In early August, news broke that he would miss the entire preseason after undergoing surgery to fix a nerve issue in his knee—an injury that had “bothered him since his days in college,” according to ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky. Fantasy owners hesitated to burn a high-round pick on Nelson following a recent surgery, but it appears the procedure may have allowed the six-year veteran to play at his best.

Before Rodgers broke his collarbone last season on the opening series of the Packers’ Week 9 game against the Bears, Nelson was the second-most productive receiver in fantasy, averaging 93 yards and a touchdown per game. Despite losing Rodgers for the next eight weeks, Nelson managed to put up his career high for receiving yards in a season (1,314).

This is an especially impressive feat considering the string of backup quarterbacks the Packers trotted out in Rodgers’ absence. (When Packer Nation breathes a sigh of relief with the arrival of Matt Flynn, a player who had already been released in 2013 by both the Raiders and the Billsthe Raiders and the Bills!you know your backup quarterback situation is in shambles.)

The point is that Nelson was on pace for 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns for the season with Rodgers behind center—a total that would have easily made him the No. 1 receiver in fantasy for 2013.

Instead, Nelson finished the year approximately 11th in wide receiver scoring while catching passes for half the season from the likes of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzein and Flynn at quarterback. Even if Nelson had not kept up his break-neck pace of production for the entire season, it’s fair to assume that he would have had a top-five fantasy year if Rodgers had not missed time.

Much like last season, Nelson could fly under the radar heading into drafts. With only Cobb (and, to a lesser extent, trendy fantasy sleeper Jarrett Boykin) as his major competition for targets and touchdowns, there’s every reason to rate Nelson as a top-10 wide receiver in 2014.

 

In this corner: RANDALL COBB

2013 was an up-and-down season for Cobb, the 23-year-old receiver out of Kentucky.

He began the year with a bang, totaling 16 receptions for 236 yards and two touchdowns over the first two weeks of the regular season. Then, in Week 6, Cobb fractured his fibula. He went on to miss all but Week 17, a win-or-go-home match up against division rivals, the Bears.

Being his first game back from injury, Cobb played limited snaps in the Packers season finale. He totaled a whopping seven receiving yards on one reception during the first 59 minutes of play.

Then, on fourth down, with less than a minute to play and the season on the line, this happened:

(Sorry, Bears fans.)

Cobb is a special talent, as is Rodgers. The two together can make fantasy miracles happen, as displayed in the above video. Cobb can salvage his fantasy day in one play. His potential is scary.

But that is exactly what Cobb has to offer—potential.

Will Either Packer Finish top 10 in WR fantasy scoring?

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Yes, in 2012 he led the Packers in receiving yards, but he’s never actually put together a No. 1 fantasy receiver season. Cobb has never totaled 1,000 receiving yards or 10 receiving touchdowns in a season (to be fair, he added 132 rushing yards in 2012 to his 954 receiving yards—a total of 1,086 yards from scrimmage). He has only 136 receptions in his three-year NFL career. Yet, when he makes a play like the one above, it’s hard not to imagine that he is capable of a huge season.

 

Therefore, to draft Cobb over Nelson requires a small leap of faith. With presumably less competition for targets and touchdowns with Jones and Finley gone, there are plenty of divinely thrown passes from Rodgers to go around. Both players have the skills and opportunity to be No. 1 fantasy receivers. For 2014, it comes down to odds—who is more likely to top the charts?

 

The Decision: JORDY NELSON 

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Both receivers have a similarly high ceiling for production, but Cobb’s floor is lower. Based on past performance and injury history, Nelson gets the edge. He should be drafted as a no-brainer, top-10 wide receiver. Cobb should be a lock for the top 20, and a safe bet to finish in the top 15.

 

2014 Projection

Jordy Nelson: 85 REC 1,475 REC YDS 13 TDS
Randall Cobb: 75 REC 1,100 RED YDS 11 TDS

 

 

BRANDON MARSHALL vs. ALSHON JEFFERY

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Marshall is listed at 6’4” and 229 pounds, and Jeffery at 6’4” and 230 pounds, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Therefore, Jeffery should be drafted higher, right? OK, problem solved. Next…

If only it were that easy to distinguish between these two modern-day “monsters of the midway.” Both guys finished in the top 10 in wide receiver scoring for 2013 with Marshall a few points ahead because of his 12 receiving touchdowns (compared to seven for Jeffery). They edged out the Denver Broncos’ dynamic receiving tandem of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker as the league’s most productive duo in terms of total yards (2,821 versus 2,718).

A case can be made to have both players in the top five in preseason wide receiver rankings. The hype train for Jeffery is sure to grow louder leading up to the start of the season, so both receivers will likely come at a premium in drafts. So, who is the better value?

 

In this corner: BRANDON MARSHALL

With Marshall now on the wrong side of 30 and entering his ninth NFL season, questions about his age are not entirely irrelevant. Most receivers who see as many snaps and targets as Marshall has over his illustrious career usually begin to show signs of slowing down.

Since his rookie season, Marshall has averaged 99 receptions, 1,249 yards and just under eight touchdowns. In 2013, he posted 100 receptions, 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns.

About those signs of slowing down?

By all indications, Marshall is at the peak of his prime. Since joining the Bears in 2012, Marshall has been arguably the most consistent No. 1 receiver in fantasy. He has played in every game since 2011 despite showing up on the injury report intermittently with injuries to his back, foot, quad, knee, groin, shoulder and hamstring, according to USA Today Sports. He’s a tough player with an aggressive passion for the game and clearly thrives within the Chicago Bears’ high-octane passing regime.

Has the emergence of Jeffery affected Marshall’s production? Just the opposite. Following the Bears’ Week 8 bye, Marshall actually increased his weekly average in receiving yards and touchdowns compared to the first half of the season. It seems that head coach Marc Trestman’s offense can accommodate two behemoth wideouts.

Marshall is at the top of his game and should remain there for at least another year. Along with fellow wide receivers Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green, Marshall has boasted back-to-back, top-five fantasy seasons—not bad company. While an increase in production in 2014 seems unlikely, another consistent year from Marshall would be nothing short of incredible, yet completely expected.

 

In this corner: ALSHON JEFFERY

Talk about making the sophomore leap.

If it weren’t for Josh Gordon’s mind-blowing year in Cleveland, the buzz on Jeffery’s breakout 2013 season would be even more buzzin’. After a somewhat quiet start to the year, Jeffery deafeningly announced himself to the fantasy world in Weeks 4 and 5, totaling an eye-popping 325 yards and two touchdowns.

He remained consistent throughout most of the season, including one of the all-time great receiving games in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings. Jeffery exploded for 249 yards and two touchdowns that week, a performance that led analysts such as NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano to exclaim the following:

 

Toward the end of the season, every week Jeffery seemed to make an astounding acrobatic play on a deep ball, including the following gem from Week 14 against the Dallas Cowboys, courtesy of NFL.com:

 

When asked about the difference between himself and Jeffery, Marshall told ESPN’s Erin Andrews that the two receivers were “totally different guys." Marshall continued, "I didn’t start, you know, really, adjusting to the deep ball until Year 5 or 6 of my career. [Jeffery] does it naturally, so, there’s really no comparison between us. Just that we make plays.”

Which receiver poses the better fantasy value in 2014?

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Considering the sheer quantity of passes going to Marshall and running back Matt Forte, it would be logical to assume that the Bears’ “deep threat” receiver would suffer from fewer looks and more boom or bust stat lines. But in a Marc Trestman offense, there’s rarely a shortage of targets. Jeffery saw 150 in 2013, compared to 163 for Marshall and 94 or Forte. Proving to be more than just a deep threat, Jeffery still left his fantasy owners with some decent production even in games in which he didn’t make any huge plays.

 

Jeffery quickly emerged as a No. 1 fantasy threat in 2013 and validated by season’s end that his production was no fluke. He’s here to stay among the fantasy receiving elite and is poised to challenge Marshall’s throne as the Bears’ top receiver going forward.

 

The Decision: ALSHON JEFFERY

David Banks/Getty Images

With Trestman, Marshall, Jeffery and quarterback Jay Cutler all heading into their second season together, it’s difficult to imagine a more prolific offense in 2014. However, Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times reported in March that Trestman sees room for improvement. “There’s an awareness that we have a good offense, but we feel we could have done a lot better,” Trestman commented at an NFL owners meeting. He continued: “We left a lot out there. We’re highly critical of ourselves that we didn’t play better than we did.”

If the Bears offense continues to improve in 2014, 24-year-old Jeffery should benefit the most. With only two seasons under his belt, he is still coming into his own as a receiver. While Cutler and Marshall have a connection dating back to their 2006 rookie year in Denver, Jeffery is the receiver with room to grow.

Considering his 1,526 yards from scrimmage were good for second among all wide receivers in 2013, any further growth would put Jeffery in rarefied territory.

Marshall should continue to put up his consistently impressive stats this year; meanwhile Jeffery could challenge for the top wide receiver spot in fantasy.

 

2014 Projection

Brandon Marshall: 104 REC 1,300 REC YDS 11 TDS
Alshon Jeffery: 92 REC 1,500 TOTAL YDS 13 TDS

 

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