Fantasy Football 2014: Biggest Fantasy Winners and Losers, Post-Draft
NFL team rosters are taking shape—a fresh crop of rookies, along with the majority of free agents, have found their new homes. As the depth charts fill out, we can more clearly determine each player’s role on his respective team.
For some—the winners—the draft helped to solidify players’ starting roles or improve their surrounding weapons. For others—you guessed it, the losers—predraft expectations for fantasy stardom in 2014 may now need to be tempered a bit.
Fantasy football is a fickle beast, and keeping up with the ever-changing landscape will inevitably pay dividends come draft day. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the players most affected by the outcome of the NFL draft.
Winners: WR Calvin Johnson and QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Already boasting one of the league’s most skill position-rich offenses prior to the draft, the Detroit Lions added another stud in the first round in tight end Eric Ebron. A prolific pass-catcher with an impressive size-speed combo, Ebron should help to spread out opposing defenses and create more space for starting wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.
New Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, formerly with the New Orleans Saints, knows a thing or two about employing a high-octane passing offense that features an athletic tight end. While Ebron may not be Jimmy Graham, Lombardi should have no problem exploiting defensive mismatches in the passing game. Considering that opposing teams already double (and sometimes even triple) cover Johnson, the addition of another versatile freak like Ebron is a nightmare for defensive coordinators trying to scheme against Detroit.
At the peak of his prime and in possibly the best offensive situation of his career, Johnson should not fall beyond the middle of the first-round in fantasy drafts.
Also a benefactor of the Ebron pick, Matthew Stafford enters 2014 with a plethora of receiving options. Running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are among the league’s best receivers out of the backfield, and Megatron is far-and-away the most talented wideout in the game. Now, after adding Tate in free agency and Ebron via the draft, Stafford could be headed for a career year statistically.
CBS Sports’ Jamey Eisenberg agrees:
Following the draft, Stafford is now entrenched as the No. 4 fantasy quarterback for 2014, after the big three of Manning, Brees and Rodgers.
Loser: RB Shonn Greene, Tennessee Titans
Drafting the first running back with the 54th overall pick, the Tennessee Titans selected Washington Huskie Bishop Sankey and effectively crushed Shonn Greene’s fantasy value for 2014.
The Titans clearly brought in Sankey (5’9”, 209 pounds) to develop into the team’s No. 1 running back. Tennessee’s former face of the franchise, Chris Johnson, was released in April and has since joined the New York Jets. Though not a burner like Johnson, Sankey’s all-around skill set makes him the most talented running back on the roster simply by default.
Johnson’s departure temporarily left Greene atop the team's depth chart. On a team with many holes to fill, it was unclear if the Titans would use a premium pick on another running back or just stick it out with Greene as the bell cow. Sankey’s arrival quickly refutes the latter notion.
Greene may still have the opportunity to compete for the starting job but few believe he can beat out the Pac-12’s leading rusher in 2013, including Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus:
Bishop Sankey will initially share the Titans backfield with Shonn Greene, but he'll move way ahead pretty quickly.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) May 10, 2014
To make things even worse, Greene recently underwent knee surgery and should miss most of the offseason. The door is now wide open for Sankey to walk in and impress his new coaching staff.
If Greene begins the 2014 season behind Sankey in the Titans’ running back pecking order, his fantasy value is only that of a low-end handcuff and occasional touchdown vulture.
Winners: WR Vincent Jackson and QB Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Mike Evans, wide receiver out of Texas A&M. Several analysts projected the first-team All-American to land with the Bucs, a team in dire need of receiver depth. So, it came as no surprise when Evans went off the board where he did.
At 6’5” and 231 pounds, Evans should have a similar impact on fellow teammate Vincent Jackson that the Lions’ Ebron should have on Megatron.
In the offseason, Tampa Bay lost wide receivers Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood to the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers, respectively, leaving Jackson as the only viable receiving threat on the Bucs’ roster. Now with another mammoth and physical receiver mandating tight coverage across the field, Jackson (6’5”, 230 pounds) should have some room to breathe. He could come as a value in fantasy drafts with No. 1 wide receiver potential.
The selection of Evans also benefits quarterback Josh McCown who now has two big, sure-handed targets at his disposal, much like he did last season in Chicago. Following the Bucs’ first-round pick, NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller took note of this parallel:
Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson would give Josh McCown and Lovie Smith their Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery-like duo. Makes a lot of sense— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 3, 2014
ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry also viewed the addition of Evans as a boon to McCown’s fantasy value:
Evans is a stud. Makes McCOwn a viable QB2 for 2QB lgs. Have Evans as a top 40WR now. Helps Martin too. Like pick by TB.— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) May 9, 2014
With the Bucs currently committed to the 13-year veteran as their starter in 2014, McCown will have the entire offseason to build a rapport with his towering receiving tandem.
As Berry noted, McCown is most suitable as a backup fantasy quarterback—a late-round value possessing some serious upside.
Loser: RB Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
One of last season’s waiver-wire darlings, Zac Stacy made a name for himself in his rookie year as a true workhorse and viable No. 1 fantasy running back by the end of 2013. Heading into the offseason, it appeared that the St. Louis Rams had vested their faith in the 5’8”, 224-pound stomper out of Vanderbilt to carry the load in 2014.
With the No. 2 overall selection in the draft, the Rams could have gone a number of ways with the pick. So, when St. Louis chose stud left tackle Greg Robinson to beef up its offensive line, the decision seemed to confirm that the Rams would commit to the run in 2014.
As noted by Chris Brown of Smart Football, Robinson’s immense talent is used best opening up holes for running backs:
Robinson is still a project at pass protection but he will grind you up in the run game. Zac Stacy has to be happy— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) May 9, 2014
Continuing to support the notion of a run-heavy St. Louis offense, the team then took Robinson’s Auburn teammate, bell cow running back Tre Mason, in the third round.
The addition of Mason will undoubtedly slow down the Stacy hype-train a bit. The second-year back found his way into the top-10 running backs in some expert offseason rankings, such as those of ESPN’s Berry. Now, such a lofty distinction may not be as clear with the 2013 SEC Player of the Year in the mix.
Regularly seeing 25-plus carries when fully healthy, Stacy produces best as a high-volume back that wears down a defense over the course of a game. Mason, too, made his due in college pounding the ball at a high rate. Any competition for carries could hamper Stacy’s fantasy value.
Stacy will likely begin the season as the Rams' primary back. However, Mason’s potential to impress combined with Stacy’s injury history adds decent risk to his status as a No. 1 back in fantasy.
Winners: RB Montee Ball and RB C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos
Sometimes the biggest winners in fantasy are the players who simply avoid new competition. In the case of the Denver Broncos running backs, maintaining the status quo post-draft spells a major victory for presumed starter Montee Ball and backup C.J. Anderson.
Clearly, general manager John Elway and head coach John Fox believe that Ball can be the feature back in Denver.
First, the team let its leading rusher from last season, Knowshon Moreno, walk in free agency. Then, the Broncos did not sign a single running back to replace Moreno, leaving the door open for Denver to address this need in the draft. Despite several opportunities to grab some of the top rookie prospects in the middle rounds, the Broncos brass opted to stick with its current group of backs.
The team did grab three undrafted free-agent running backs following the conclusion of the draft; however, none are expected to compete for carries in 2014.
Barring a trade for a veteran rusher, Ball should face little resistance on his path to the top of Denver’s depth chart.
If he can continue to improve his pass-blocking and ball security issues that plagued him last offseason, the NCAA’s all-time touchdown leader should be in line for a hefty workload this year. And in an offense as prolific as the Manning-led Broncos, Ball’s fantasy ceiling is among the highest in the league. Accordingly, he should be drafted as a low-end No. 1 running back.
The team’s decision to pass on running backs in the draft also speaks to its faith in Anderson, who should compete with Ronnie Hillman for the second-string role behind Ball. The former undrafted free agent impressed last preseason, and, following Hillman’s struggles last year, Anderson finished 2013 as the team’s No. 2 back. He’s now entered must-own handcuff status for owners of Ball.
Loser: WR Stevie Johnson, San Francisco 49ers
“Right now, we’re all ones.” That’s what Stevie Johnson, recently traded from Buffalo Bills to the San Francisco 49ers, told his new team’s website, claiming that the Niners now boast four No. 1 receivers.
Johnson may be right, in the sense that opposing defenses will have to respect San Francisco’s deep passing attack, consisting of tight end Vernon Davis and wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and now Johnson. However, in terms of fantasy value, Johnson was likely far better off in Buffalo where he faced limited competition.
The Bills traded up in the first round of the draft to acquire top wide receiver prospect Sammy Watkins, shopping Johnson to the highest bidder soon thereafter.
With so many mouths to feed in the current 49ers receiving corps, it’s unlikely that their offense will sustain each player’s fantasy value from years past. To do so, the team would need an aerial attack on par with those of Denver and New Orleans, the top-two teams in passing yards per game last season (San Francisco ranked 30th on that list with 186.2 passing yards per game).
To be fair, Crabtree missed 11 games in 2013, taking quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target off the field for much of the year. Still, the team’s current identity is one of stout defense and a power run game, first and foremost.
San Francisco assuredly expects an improved passing game next season. However, it may be quite frustrating for fantasy owners to predict when a receiver like Johnson will have a big game. As a result, the former Bills’ leading pass-catcher should be drafted as nothing more than a No. 4 wide receiver option for fantasy teams.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
James Paradis is a fantasy football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Be sure to check out his entire archive on fantasy strategy and analysis.
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