Fantasy

2014 Fantasy Football Primer: Ultimate Guide to This Year's Trophy

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystJune 11, 2014

2014 Fantasy Football Primer: Ultimate Guide to This Year's Trophy

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    It's that most wonderful time of the year.

    No, not Christmas you goof. Have you been outside recently?

    It's fantasy football draft season!

    As we move deeper into the summer, fantasy freaks from sea to shining sea will gather in man caves, watering holes and online to draft their teams for the upcoming season.

    For champions, it's a chance to back up last year's title run. For cellar-dwellers, it's the first opportunity to wash away the stink from last year's disappointing campaign.

    Of course, in order to accomplish either of those goals, a successful draft is key. There's an old saying in fantasy football: "You can't win your league on draft day, but you can lose it."

    With that in mind. Here's a one-stop shop for everything you need to draft a team that will have you in the thick of the playoff chase, from player rankings to sleepers and busts and draft-day strategy tips.

Quarterback Rankings

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    In 2013, it was Peyton Manning's world. Other quarterbacks were just living in it.

    Manning re-wrote the single-season record books at the position last year. His 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdown passes each set NFL records.

    And yet, Manning isn't the top fantasy quarterback for the upcoming season.

    Wait, what?

    1.) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: He may not have Manning's ridiculous ceiling, but Brees is the only quarterback in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard/40-plus passing touchdown seasons. He was one scoring pass shy of a third straight in 2013.

    2.) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: A broken collarbone cost Rodgers nearly half the 2013 season, but the 30-year-old is healthy, in great shape, in the prime of his career and back at the helm of one of the NFL's most potent passing attacks.

    3.) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: Manning's a future Hall of Famer coming off a record-setting season with the NFL's most loaded wideout corps at his disposal. However, the last two times the touchdown record fell, the signal-caller who broke it threw at least 20 fewer scoring passes the next year.

    4.) Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Stafford's yardage totals have been phenomenal the past three seasons, but he hasn't broken 30 touchdown passes since 2011. Improvements in the passing game could help end that drought this year.

    5.) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan's numbers were way down in a 2013 season that saw the Falcons absolutely ravaged by injuries, but a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White are all that's required for a bounceback year.

    6.) Cam Newton Carolina Panthers: The fourth-year pro hasn't finished any lower than this spot in six-point passing touchdown leagues in his career. The question marks surrounding the Carolina passing game may put that to the test in 2014.

    7.) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: If Reggie Wayne comes back healthy and Hakeem Nicks can stay that way, Luck could easily outperform this ranking, especially given the team's issues establishing the run last year.

    8.) Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: After a nightmarish sophomore season, a healthy Griffin has drawn raves for his improved accuracy in OTAs. Throw in the addition of wideout DeSean Jackson in free agency, and there's some real upside here.

    9.) Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles: Foles was outstanding after taking over for Michael Vick in Philly last year. He isn't going to throw 27 touchdown passes against two picks again in 2014, but the third-year pro is a solid weekly starter for fantasy owners who like to wait before drafting a quarterback.

    10.) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: Romo posted top-10 fantasy numbers last year despite missing a game, and given the loss of Sean Lee from a Dallas defense that was already terrible, the Cowboys offense is going to have to carry the team in 2014.

    11.) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: Rivers looked like his old self last year, throwing for nearly 4,500 yards and posting top-five fantasy numbers. Frank Reich's new no-huddle offense doesn't hurt the odds of a repeat.

    12.) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers: The cannon arm. The incredible athleticism. The maddening inconsistency. Kaepernick could easily post top-five fantasy numbers, and just as easily finish outside the top 15.

    13.) Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Brady turns 37 this year, there's plenty of questions surrounding the Patriots' receivers, and last year was Brady's worst non-injury season from a fantasy standpoint in over a decade.

    14.) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: This ranking says a lot less about Wilson's ability to hurt teams with his arm and legs than it does about the fact that the Seahawks are a run-first football team. No reason to think that changes this year.

    15.) Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: Over the first six weeks of the 2013 season, Cutler ranked sixth among fantasy quarterbacks. With one of the NFL's best duos of wide receivers at his disposal, top-10 numbers are well within reach if Cutler can stay on the field.

    16.) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: The odds of Dalton backing up last year's third-place fantasy finish aren't very good in Hue-Jackson's run-centric offense, but even if "The Red Rifle" backslides a bit he'd still represent good value in this spot.

    17.) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Speaking of value, Roethlisberger is generating next to no buzz in fantasy football in 2014. That's despite passing last year for his most yardage since 2009 and most touchdowns since 2007.

    18.) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins: Tannehill finished his second season strong, topping 300 passing yards in three of his last six games. An improved offensive front should aid Tannehill in his development this year.

    19.) Eli Manning, New York Giants: Manning hasn't hit the 4,000-yard mark since 2011's Super Bowl year, while throwing a staggering 58 interceptions over the past three seasons. Not the sorts of things fantasy owners like to hear about their quarterback.

    20.) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: Smith catches a lot of flak for being a game manager, but even so the 30-year-old finished a respectable 14th in fantasy points per game last year. Smith isn't going to blow anyone's doors off, but he's a solid high-floor fantasy backup.

     

    Rankings based on scoring system that awards one point for every 10 rushing/receiving yards and 25 passing yards, six points for all touchdowns and subtracts two points for all interceptions and lost fumbles.

Quarterback Sleepers and Busts

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Before we go any farther, a quick word.

    There aren't two more overused words in the fantasy football vernacular than "sleeper" and "bust." In many cases, the words no longer mean what they once did. They may well never have meant what they were supposed to.

    For the purpose of this exercise, a "sleeper" is simply an undervalued player, one being drafted much closer to his fantasy floor than his ceiling. The opposite holds true for the "busts."

    Average Draft Position data courtesy of My Fantasy League (MFL).

     

    SLEEPERS

    Robert Griffin, Washington Redskins (ADP: Round 7)

    It isn't hard to see why many fantasy owners are leery of drafting Griffin in 2014. After all, we went down the risk-reward route a year ago with the youngster, and the results, as they say, were not pretty.

    Still, this year's circumstances are more than a little different. Griffin will have a full offseason this year to get ready for his third NFL season, and new Redskins head coach Jay Gruden told Albert Breer of NFL.com the third-year QB has been making the most of it.

    "He wants to be the greatest," Gruden said. "And he knows he has a long way to go, which is refreshing from a guy that's had a Heisman Trophy and as much publicity as he's had."

    Griffin, who was fifth among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game two years ago, has been impressive in workouts and has a much deeper group of receivers to throw to with the additions of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts.

    Not bad for a player currently being drafted ninth among quarterbacks according to MFL.

     

    Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: Round 9)

    There are a few things in fantasy football you can count on. One of them is Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys annually being undervalued in drafts. It's like the stink of the public perception of Romo as a "choke artist" wafts right into fantasy draft rooms.

    However, it's worth taking into account what Grant Paulsen of CBS Radio in Washington said about Romo recently while calling him one of the NFL's most overrated players:

    He is just a stat compiler. This is an entire category of player, anymore, in the NFL, and it is taking advantage of a system and statistics — most of the time I’m gonna put quarterbacks in this column.

    Just a stat compiler. That fiend!

    Romo finished eighth among fantasy passers in 2013, the fourth time in the past five seasons the 34-year-old has finished that high. With the Cowboys set to field a defense somewhere between terrible and laughable in 2014, it will fall to the Dallas offense to keep the Cowboys in games.

    If Romo stays healthy, he'll blow past his 13th-place ADP among quarterbacks this year and then some.

     

    BUSTS

    Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (ADP: Round 3)

    Before everyone starts heading to grab the pitchforks and torches, an important disclaimer where the forehead is concerned. The third round isn't an unreasonable ADP at all for Manning, especially in lieu of his record-setting 2013.

    However, there are far too many leagues where Manning is being drafted not just as the first quarterback overall, but also as a first-round pick.

    That's asking for trouble, because in order to justify that pick Manning would need to post numbers approaching last year's explosion.

    The odds are against that. After throwing 49 touchdown passes in 2004, Manning's total plummeted to 28 the following season. The season after Tom Brady broke the record with 50, he lasted all of one game before getting hurt.

    Counting on a 38-year-old to buck that trend with the first pick of your fantasy draft just isn't wise, especially given the depth available to fantasy drafters at the quarterback position in 2014.

     

    Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: Round 4)

    Mind you, Andrew Luck is unquestionably one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, and heading into his third season Luck told Stephen Holder of The Indianapolis Star he's been hard at work on refining his game:

    We talk a lot about situational football in these meetings right now as we go back through last year's film. We weren't great at third down. We were average in third down, average in the red zone. I don't know about two-minute (situations), but we didn't lead the league – I know that. To be a great offense, a great football team, we have to be very, very good in third down, very, very good in the red zone.

    It would appear that many are predicting this is the year Luck finally puts it all together from a statistical standpoint. He's being drafted as the fourth passer off draft boards, before the likes of Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford.

    It's certainly possible that Luck could live up to that billing, especially if wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks can stay healthy. However, both veterans are returning from serious injuries, and the Colts continue to state they are dedicated to running the ball in 2014.

    Given that Luck's career-best fantasy finish to date is seventh last year, that's quite a bit of risk for a supposed top-five fantasy quarterback.

     

Running Back Rankings

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    2013 was not especially kind to the running back position in fantasy football.

    Actually, that's putting it mildly.

    Of the top 10 running backs selected in the nearly 9.000 fantasy drafts at My Fantasy League, fully half disappointed in a big way.

    That puts a lot of pressure on fantasy owners to choose wisely at the position this season.

    To aid them in doing so, here's a look at the top 25 fantasy running backs in 2014.

     

    1.) Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: After eclipsing 2,000 yards on the ground and threatening the single-season rushing record in 2012, Peterson's production fell off last year. But, the arrival of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner in Minnesota could portend a rebound in 2014.

    2.) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs: Charles rode nearly 2,000 total yards and 19 total touchdowns to the top spot among fantasy running backs in 2013. Still, it's been several years since a ball-carrier posted two straight No. 1 finishes (LaDainian Tomlinson, in 2006 and 2007).

    3.) LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles: McCoy paced the NFL with 1,607 yards on the ground last year, and the Eagles ran the ball more than any team in the NFC in 2013, but the arrival of Darren Sproles could cost "Shady" some passing-down work.

    4.) Matt Forte, Chicago Bears: Forte has been one of fantasy football's most consistent running backs the past several years, and coming off a career year in an offense that's a fantastic fit for his skill set, there's little reason to think that's going to change in 2014.

    5.) Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers: The 2013 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year carried the Green Bay offense last year while Aaron Rodgers was out. With Rodgers back there may not be as many carries, but there also won't be constant eight-man fronts.

    6.) Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks: No running back in the National Football League has carried the ball more times over the past three seasons than Lynch. In each season over that span, Lynch has topped 1,200 yards on the ground and scored double-digit touchdowns.

    7.) Arian Foster, Houston Texans: Foster was one of those top backs who disappointed last year, but the 27-year-old is reportedly healthy and slated for an every-down role in 2014, according to what head coach Bill O' Brien told the team's website.

    8.) DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys: Murray stayed relatively healthy in 2013, and the end result was over 1,100 rushing yards and double-digit total scores. This year, Murray told Charean Williams of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he's "ready for the Cowboys to give him even more."

    9.) Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins: Even in a "down" second NFL season Morris rushed for 1,275 yards. The return of a healthy Robert Griffin in 2014 should mean less-stacked defensive fronts for Morris.

    10.) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After rushing for over 1,400 yards as a rookie, Martin missed 10 games with a shoulder injury last year. That, and talk of a committee attack in Tampa this year, makes Martin one of the riskier RB1 picks in 2014.

    11.) Montee Ball, Denver Broncos: With Knowshon Moreno now in Miami, the job of lead back in Denver falls to Ball this year. The opportunity will be there. It's in Ball's court whether or not he takes advantage of it.

    12.) Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers: At first glance, Bell's 3.5 yards per carry last year may not appear overly impressive. Still, Bell's play improved steadily down the stretch, with the former Michigan State star averaging a full half-yard better over the last six games of the season.

    13.) Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals: Bernard showed explosive ability for the Bengals as a rookie. But, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and now rookie Jeremy Hill both in the mix, touches for Bernard in Cincinnati could be an issue.

    14.) Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams: Last year's late-round RB surprise, Stacy was a top-10 fantasy producer from Week 5 on. However, Stacy managed only a so-so 3.9 yards per carry in 2013, and rookie Tre Mason may siphon some touches as the season wears on.

    15.) C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills: Spiller was a top-10 draft pick in many fantasy leagues last year, but the former Clemson back once again struggled with injuries, and Fred Jackson just refuses to go away. A classic risk/reward pick. It's worth noting, however, that no team in the NFL ran the ball more than the Bills a year ago.

    16.) Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers: Mathews played in 16 games last year for the first time in his four-year career, topping 1,200 yards on the ground. Still, the addition of Donald Brown in the offseason makes for a crowded backfield in sunny San Diego.

    17.) Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions: Bush had an excellent first year with the Lions in 2013, topping 1,000 yards on the ground for the second time and finishing as a top-10 fantasy back. Bump Bush up the list if your fantasy league awards a point for receptions.

    18.) Chris Johnson, New York Jets: After six years and just as many 1,000-yard seasons, Johnson was let go by the Titans this spring. Granted, the "CJ2K" days may be gone, but just last year Johnson was a top-10 fantasy back.

    19.) Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals: Ellington led the NFL with 5.5 yards a carry last year, the first rookie to accomplish that feat since Ickey Woods in 1988. A larger workload could mean a breakout season...if the 5'9", 199-pounder holds up.

    20.) Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns: After three years as Arian Foster's understudy, Tate joined the Browns in free agency. Tate produced when afforded the chance with the Texans, but he's also missed time every year he's been in the league.

    21.) Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers: Gore has topped 1,000 rushing yards in seven of the past eight seasons, finishing just outside fantasy RB1 territory in 12-team leagues last year. With that said, at 31 age is a very real concern for the 10th-year veteran.

    22.) Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens: Rice was terrible last year, and this season the 27-year-old is staring at a suspension of indeterminate length to begin the campaign. Still, from 2009-2012, Rice posted fantasy RB1 numbers four straight years. He could be a steal if he bounces back strong in 2014.

    23.) Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts: Richardson disappointed both fantasy owners and the Colts with a miserable 2013, but hopes are up entering this year that a full offseason in Indy will mean a rebound season from the former third overall pick.

    24.) Rashad Jennings, New York Giants: Jennings will get his first shot as an NFL starter this year with the G-Men. If he plays like the back who gained 4.5 yards per carry last year with the Raiders, Jennings will be a solid fantasy RB2. If he plays like the back who averaged 2.8 yards two years ago in Jacksonville? Not so much.

    25.) Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans: The first running back drafted in 2014, Sankey topped 1,800 yards on the ground at the University of Washington last year.The only thing standing between Sankey and a big workload early on is the supremely underwhelming Shonn Greene.

     

    Rankings based on scoring system that awards one point for every 10 rushing/receiving yards and 25 passing yards, six points for all touchdowns and subtracts two points for all interceptions and lost fumbles.

Running Back Sleepers and Busts

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    Tim Umphrey/Associated Press

    There likely isn't a position in fantasy football where finding value (and avoiding busts) is more important than at running back.

    (Cue fantasy owners of Zac Stacy nodding enthusiastically, while Trent Richardson and Arian Foster owners mumble things I can't print here.)

    With that in mind, here's a look at some over and undervalued running backs in 2014.

    Average Draft Position data courtesy of My Fantasy League.

     

    SLEEPERS

    Arian Foster, Houston Texans (ADP: Round 4)

    It may seem odd to call Arian Foster a "sleeper." After all, the sixth-year veteran has been highly productive for most of his NFL career and ranks seventh in my running back rankings.

    However, Foster's average draft position is significantly lower in early drafts this year—as in out of RB1 territory altogether in 12-team fantasy football leagues.

    Yes, Foster missed half of last season with an assortment of injuries, and there's more than a little wear on his tires—like nearly 1,100 carries over the past four years' worth.

    With that said though, Foster told Mark Berman of MyFox Houston that he's back to 100-percent health, and the 26-year-old is a fan of new head coach Bill O' Brien's offense:

    So far I really love it. It's very versatile. Coach O'Brien has expressed many times how he wants to use me a lot out of the backfield. That's one of my strengths as a running back. So I'm excited about it.

    Fantasy owners should be excited as well. The last two years in which Foster touched the ball 300 times, he finished as a top-five fantasy back. It's that potential that makes Foster so appealing, especially for fantasy owners who eschew the running back position in the first round.

     

    Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (ADP: Round 13)

    Listen, I get why there are reservations about investing much draft capital in Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson. He is 33, well past the age at which players at his position are usually put out to pasture.

    Also, the Bills added Bryce Brown in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, leading one of Brown's old teammates to predict that Brown would be the Bills' Week 1 starter:

    @BryceBrown_34 my boy it's been fun... Good luck with everything and knowing what they got and knowing what they getting lol starter day 1

    — Lesean McCoy (@CutonDime25) May 10, 2014

    However, it's also worth pointing out that Jackson rushed for more yardage in 2013 alone (890 yards) than Brown has in his entire career.

    Jackson topped 1,200 total yards and scored 10 touchdowns last year, averaging a respectable 4.3 yards a carry. Jackson may not be as explosive as Brown, but he also doesn't have Brown's fumbling issues.

    Granted, the crowded backfield in Buffalo is going to make it very difficult for Jackson to back up last year's top-12 season, but even should he backslide all the way into RB3 territory, he'd still be a value given that right now he's going for next to nothing in drafts.

     

    BUSTS

    Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: Round 1)

    Before everyone starts freaking out again, another disclaimer. There is absolutely nothing wrong with drafting Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles in the first round, or even in the top five.

    Over the past two seasons, Charles has averaged over 1,800 total yards a year. He found paydirt an eye-popping 19 times last year.

    However, that gaudy touchdown total is part of the problem, in that it's going to be awfully hard to replicate his first-place finish among fantasy running backs last year.

    It's been seven seasons since a running back has gone "back-to-back," dating all the way back to LaDainian Tomlinson's heyday with the San Diego Chargers.

    Recent history has been even less kind to fantasy's top back. Over the past three years, fantasy football's top ball-carrier has seen his production in standard-scoring leagues drop by an average of 89 points the year after that top finish.

    A similar drop by Charles would place him just outside the top five, based on last year's numbers.

    Caveat emptor.

     

    Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins (ADP: Round 7)

    After topping the 1,000-yard mark on the ground for the first time in his NFL career en route to a top-five finish among fantasy running backs, Knowshon Moreno headed east, signing with the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

    However, things haven't gotten off to the best of starts for Moreno in Miami, according to Omar Kelly of The South-Florida Sun Sentinel:

    Knowshon Moreno just dropped the first pass of team red zone drill. NOT IMPRESSED with him today.

    — Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) June 2, 2014

    Moreno also reportedly didn't show up for OTAs in the best of shape:

    Knowshon Moreno looks a little thick around the belly. #needswork

    — Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) June 2, 2014

    Remember, entering the 2013 season, Moreno had been generally regarded as a disappointing player since being drafted by Denver in the first round in 2009.

    The same Broncos who made no real effort to retain Moreno in the offseason.

Wide Receiver Rankings

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    2014 just might go down in fantasy football history as "the year of the wideout."

    Given the innumerable questions facing the running back position this year, and with more fantasy leagues than ever requiring at least three weekly starters at wide receiver, more fantasy owners are hitting the position early and often in fantasy drafts.

    In fact, of the top 12 players being selected in early drafts at My Fantasy League, six are wideouts, the most of any position.

    The times they are a-changin'.

    Here's a look at the top 25 fantasy wide receivers for 2014.

     

    1.) Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Like it's going to be anyone else. I could rattle off stats in regards to "Megatron" all day long, but all you need to know is that the NFL's best wide receiver hasn't finished lower than third among fantasy wideouts since 2010. That year he was sixth.

    2.) A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Over the past two seasons, Green has averaged over 95 catches, 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns a season. Only Pierre Garcon of the Washington Redskins and Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans were targeted more than Green in 2013.

    3.) Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos: Thomas led all wide receivers with 14 touchdown catches in 2013, and finished less than a point behind Josh Gordon in the race to be Fantasy football's top player at his position. Plus, I hear that the Denver offense is supposed to be pretty good.

    4.) Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: Bryant has been phenomenal the past two years, with 25 touchdown grabs over that span. Given how much the Cowboys are going to have to throw this year, there's no reason to think Bryant can't make it three years in a row with double-digit scores.

    5.) Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: Jones was fantasy football's top wide receiver last year before a foot injury ended his season early. So long as the foot's OK for Week 1, Jones should return to the ranks of the elite fantasy options at his position in 2014.

    6.) Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears: There hasn't been a more consistent fantasy producer at the wide receiver position over the past several seasons than Marshall, who has posted top-15 numbers in six of the past seven years.

    7.) Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers: No wide receiver in the AFC had more catches last year than Brown's 110, and with Emmanuel Sanders leaving the Steelers in free agency Brown should once again be targeted a ton in 2014.

    8.) Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers: A broken leg cost Cobb 10 games last year, but with the 23-year-old now healthy and Aaron Rodgers back under center Cobb can look to build on his top-10 numbers in fantasy points per game in 2013.

    9.) Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: Yes, at 33 years old Johnson isn't getting any younger, and he sat out OTAs while grumbling about the team's direction. However, Johnson isn't going anywhere in 2014, and just last year he caught 109 passes despite horrific quarterback play in Houston.

    10.) Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The lanky veteran's numbers were actually down a bit in his second season in Tampa, but the arrival of Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins should help draw defensive attention away from Jackson in 2014.

    11.) Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears: Jeffery exploded in his second NFL season, pacing the Bears with over 1,400 receiving yards. Of course, it doesn't hurt to play opposite Brandon Marshall, which cuts down on the double-teams.

    12.) Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers: Despite Aaron Rodgers missing half of last season, Nelson posted career highs in yardage and catches. With that said, those numbers might be hard to back up given Rodgers' propensity for sharing the wealth in Green Bay.

    13.) Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers: Allen was a revelation as a rookie, topping 1,000 yards and reeling in eight touchdown passes. After establishing himself as Philip Rivers' go-to guy, expect more of the same from the former Cal standout in Year 2.

    14.) Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: For the second straight year in 2013, Fitz failed to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards. However, the 30-year-old told Adam Green of Arizona Sports that bigger and better things are in store in his second season in Bruce Arians' offense.

    15.) Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins: Garcon was the NFL's busiest wideout in 2013, leading the league in both catches and targets. However, Garcon finished outside the top 12 in standard-scoring leagues last year, and the arrival of DeSean Jackson could cost Garcon some looks.

    16.) Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks: Harvin gave fantasy owners a taste of what he's capable of during Seattle's beatdown of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Durability is a huge concern, but if Harvin stays healthy in 2014 look out.

    17.) Victor Cruz, New York Giants: After finishing in the top 15 in both 2011 and 2012, Cruz's fantasy production was down in 2013. However, he still managed a top-25 fantasy finish in points per game, and the 27-year-old is now Eli Manning's unquestioned top receiver with Big Blue.

    18.) Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons: White was one of a number of Falcons to struggle with injuries in 2013, and the 32-year-old is no spring chicken. Still, prior to last year White posted five consecutive top-10 fantasy seasons at his position in standard-scoring formats.

    19.) Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens: It's a make-or-break year for Smith, who has the worst catch percentage of any wide receiver in the NFL with over 250 targets over the past three years, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    20.) Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers: Last year's Achilles tear and a suddenly crowded 49ers receiver corps are concerns, but Crabtree was a top-15 fantasy option two years ago and remains the team's most talented wide receiver.

    21.) Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals: Floyd led the Cardinals in receiving yards last year, and quarterback Carson Palmer recently told Darren Urban of the team's website a breakout season could be in store for Floyd in 2014. “I have very high expectations for Mike this year,” Palmer said.

    22.) T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts: With the addition of Hakeem Nicks and the return of veteran Reggie Wayne, the Colts are suddenly pretty deep at wide receiver. But, it's the youngster who should be the upside target for fantasy owners in 2014.

    23.) Wes Welker, Denver Broncos: Welker's reception and yardage totals in 2013 were his lowest since his days with the Miami Dolphins, but his fantasy value was salvaged by double-digit scores. Gets a nice value bump if your league awards a point for catches.

    24.) DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins: Despite setting career highs across the board last year, Jackson was let go by the Eagles in the offseason. Last year's huge numbers (and top-10 fantasy finish) may be hard to duplicate in a suddenly crowded Redskins receiver corps.

    25.) Julian Edelman, New England Patriots: Edelman emerged as Tom Brady's top receiver last year, topping 100 catches and 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. His fantasy ceiling isn't especially appetizing, but Edelman's a solid high-floor pick as a second or third receiver.

     

    Rankings based on scoring system that awards one point for every 10 rushing/receiving yards and 25 passing yards, six points for all touchdowns, and subtracts two points for all interceptions and lost fumbles.

Wide Receiver Sleepers and Busts

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    The wide receiver position is a tricky one in 2014, in that the depth available there affords fantasy owners some flexibility.

    Sure, fantasy owners who are leery of last year's ridiculous bust rate at running back can avail themselves of that depth by hitting receivers early and often.

    Or, they can flip the script, try to land a dependable running back and a quarterback or tight end, and then seek out some value picks at the receiver position a bit later on.

    Here are a couple of those value picks, as well as a pair of pass-catchers you may want to steer clear from.

    Average Draft Position data courtesy of My Fantasy League.

     

    SLEEPERS

    Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: Round 6)

    Yes, Roddy White's 2013 season, much like that of the rest of the Atlanta Falcons, was a mess. White missed three games, and his yardage, reception and touchdown totals were all his lowest since 2006.

    However, last year was also the first season in White's 10-year NFL career in which he missed time, and while 32 isn't young it ain't ancient either.

    John Beckler of AM 1100 in Atlanta sees a bounceback year (and fantasy value) in store for White in 2014:

    I’ll be targeting Roddy White heavily this season. Injury plagued last year, his value will be prime this draft season, as always.

    — John D. Beckler II (@JDBeckler) June 5, 2014

    It's hard to disagree, especially when a player who has been a staple in the top 10 over the past half-decade is currently being drafted 29th among wide receivers.

    That's not value. It's robbery.

     

    Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: Round 12)

    It might seem that I'm predisposed to favoring the geriatric crowd at the wide receiver position. In a way I guess I do, if only because so many other fantasy owners turn their backs on them.

    Case in point: Anquan Boldin of the San Francisco 49ers.

    Despite posting his best statistical production since 2008 and finishing as a top-15 fantasy wideout in standard-scoring leagues, Boldin is falling like a stone in early fantasy drafts this year.

    Out of the top 50 receivers altogether, in fact.

    Yes, Boldin is 33. Yes, Michael Crabtee is healthy. Yes, the 49ers traded for Stevie Johnson.

    However, Crabtree was on the field when last we saw the 49ers, and in that NFC title game loss Boldin had five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.

    It's premature to write Boldin off completely, so be prepared to reap the rewards if the other owners in your league grab the shovels.

     

    BUSTS

    Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: Round 4)

    There's nothing that fantasy football enthusiasts like more than grabbing a player just before his breakout season.

    Unfortunately, that also means that sometimes the hype surrounding candidates reaches the point where those players are no longer worth the pick required to draft them.

    If early drafts are any indication, Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings is headed down that path, as the second-year pro is already being drafted as a low-end fantasy WR1.

    This, despite the fact that Patterson didn't eclipse even 500 receiving yards in 2013, and the fact that Patterson went over 50 receiving yards in a game all of twice as a rookie.

    Yes, Patterson is a talented youngster, and the arrival of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should bring improved play under center down the road.

    However, drafting Patterson this early is counting on huge leaps in 2014, both from the big receiver and whoever winds up throwing him the ball. That's asking an awful lot.

     

    Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (ADP: Round 5)

    If there's a flip side to the elder set being shunned each year by many fantasy owners, it's that everyone also falls in love with the shiny new toy.

    Mind you, in no way is this meant as an indictment of Sammy Watkins. The Clemson speedster has a bright future ahead of him, and Watkins is the consensus top pick in dynasty rookie drafts in 2014.

    However, Watkins is being drafted a WR2 in redraft leagues, and that's pushing it.

    Yes, in recent years we've seen players like Keenan Allen and A.J. Green crack the 1,000-yard mark as rookies. We've also seen top rookies like Julio Jones come up short.

    There's also the small matter of the Buffalo offense and quarterback EJ Manuel. The Buffalo offense that ran the ball more than any team in the NFL last year.

    Even Watkins admits he still has plenty to learn at the NFL level, according to Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated:

    I’ve become a pretty good route runner, but there are areas I can still improve in with getting out of my routes. What I’m really focused on is my curl routes and my comebacks. I’ve got to get my transitions, and know when to run full speed or not, and sync my hips and get out of my routes.

    Add it all up, and the odds of a huge rookie year from Watkins just aren't great.

Tight End Rankings

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Where the tight ends are concerned in fantasy football in 2014, one sentence just about sums things up.

    There's Jimmy Graham, and then there's everyone else.

    The New Orleans Saints star may want to get paid like a wide receiver, but so long as he's classified as a tight end, he's a tier unto himself in fantasy rankings.

    Of course, if you want the edge that Graham affords your fantasy squad, it's going to cost you a first-round pick.

    You wanna play, you gotta pay.

    The other teams in your league will still need a tight end, so as a service to those poor schlubs, here's a look at the top 20 fantasy tight ends of 2014.

     

    1.) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints: Over the first five games of the 2013 season, Graham was the highest-scoring fantasy tight end by nearly five points per game. That's the sort of edge the 27-year-old, when healthy, affords fantasy owners.

    2.) Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos: Thomas came from nowhere to post double-digit touchdowns and a third-place finish among fantasy tight ends in 2013. No one will be sleeping on the fourth-year pro in 2014, that's for sure.

    3.) Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: Gronkowski is the only tight end capable of keeping up with Graham on a per-game basis. The problem is that there's no telling how many games that will last with the oft-injured 25-year-old.

    4.) Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers: Only Jimmy Graham had more touchdown catches and fantasy points among tight ends in 2013 than Davis, but there will be more competition for touches in the San Francisco offense this year.

    5.) Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys: Witten's yardage and catches were down in 2013, but eight touchdown grabs kept the 32-year-old in the top five at his position. It was Witten's third top-five fantasy finish in four years, and eighth straight year inside the top eight.

    6.) Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns: Another of 2013's breakout stars at the tight end spot, Cameron should see a bump in targets thanks to Josh Gordon's suspension. Unfortunately, he's going to see a bump in defensive attention as well.

    7.) Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers: With two straight seasons of over 800 receiving yards and at least five scores, Olsen has emerged as a solid starter in fantasy football leagues who comes more cheaply in drafts than many comparable options.

    8.) Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings: Sure, the quarterback situation is a concern in Minnesota, but Rudolph has already emerged as a big red-zone target. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner also has a long history of coaxing big years from tight ends (see Cameron, Jordan last year).

    9.) Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins: A trendy breakout pick this year, Reed has impressive athleticism. He's also got a long history of concussions, although Will Brinson of CBS Sports recently reported that Reed is expected to be fine for the beginning of the season.

    10.) Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens: A fractured hip cost Pitta 12 games last year, but the 28-year-old should be back at 100 percent this season. Two years ago, Pitta was fantasy football's seventh-ranked tight end in standard scoring leagues.

    11.) Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears: It happened in the shadow of the Bears' star receivers, but Bennett quietly posted a career year in 2013, finishing in the top 10 at his position in fantasy points. Teams who wait to draft a starter at the position could do worse.

    12.) Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins: Fantasy owners who plucked Clay off the waiver wire during the season last year were rewarded with almost 70 catches, over 750 receiving yards, six scores and a seventh-place fantasy finish among tight ends.

    13.) Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles: Ertz's production for the season (469 yards, four touchdowns) wasn't all that impressive, but his best two games of the season came after Week 13. Ertz told Matt Lombardo of NJ.com that he's been "relentless" in the offseason in an effort to improve in his second NFL campaign.

    14.) Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers: A torn ACL late in the 2012 season bothered Miller much of last year, but the 10th-year pro told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he's "looking forward now" to a big 2014.

    15.) Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers: Gates had his highest reception and yardage numbers last year since eclipsing 1,000 yards back in 2009, but the emergence of Ladarius Green and Keenan Allen in the red zone led to the 33-year-old snaring his fewest touchdown catches since his rookie year.

    16.) Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals: Eifert showed flashes during his rookie season of the talent that made him the first tight end drafted in 2013, but the continued presence of veteran Jermaine Gresham severely hinders Eifert's redraft fantasy upside.

    17.) Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts: After finishing 2012 as fantasy football's second-ranked tight end according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Allen missed almost the entire 2013 season with a hip injury. If he returns to form in 2014, look out.

    18.) Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions: Ebron, the first tight end drafted in 2014, is a talented youngster who could see significant snaps early with the Lions. However, it's exceedingly rare for a rookie tight end to make a big statistical dent.

    19.) Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers: Green only made 17 catches last year, but he got a staggering amount of bang for his buck, averaging an eye-popping 22.1 yards per catch. If Green carves out a bigger role in 2014, the third-year pro could annihilate this draft slot.

    20.) Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans: Long known more for his blocking ability than his receiving skills, Walker quietly posted a top-12 finish among fantasy tight ends in 2013. That may be Walker's ceiling, but he's a serviceable (and inexpensive) bye-week, fill-in type.

     

    Rankings based on scoring system that awards one point for every 10 rushing/receiving yards and 25 passing yards, six points for all touchdowns and subtracts two points for all interceptions and lost fumbles.

Tight End Sleepers and Busts

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    Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press

    There are essentially two directions fantasy owners can go in at the tight end position in 2013.

    There's the early-round investment at the tight end spot. Whether it's Jimmy Graham in the first round or Julius Thomas a few rounds later, that strategy certainly fills the need at tight end, even if it means a bit of scrambling at other positions.

    Or, fantasy owners can bide their time, address other positions while the first five (or even 10) tight ends come off the board, and try to find a value play later on.

    We've included a couple such players here, as well as a pair who may not live up to their draft-day price tags.

    Average Draft Position data courtesy of My Fantasy League.

     

    SLEEPERS

    Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: Round 13)

    After a solid rookie season, Allen appeared headed for big things in 2013. However, the third-year pro lasted all of one reception into the first game before a hip injury ended his season.

    Now, Allen's hip has healed, to the point that Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson was raving about Allen recently, according to Kevin Bowen of the team's website:

    The guy’s a beast. Anyone that game plans against him or watches the tape, or Joe Fan that just sees him how he plays in the red zone, how he plays in traffic, how he blocks at the point of attack, the tempo he plays at and the ferocity he plays at, he’s a guy you want on your team. We look forward to him having a great year.

    Given that Allen has yet to crack the top-20 fantasy performers at his position, he may appear a hard player to get excited about.

    That's sort of the point. Allen's draft-day cost is very low, and if he's able to return at 100 percent and build on his rookie year, the tight end could wind up a steal for fantasy teams who draft the position late.

     

    Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: Round 17)

    Like Allen, Heath Miller's 2013 season was adversely affected by injury. Unlike Allen though, Miller's injury actually happened the year before.

    However, the 31-year-old told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that his 2012 ACL tear is in the rearview mirror, and he realizes that a lot rests on his shoulders this year:

    It's hard for me to think of another year when we've lost (more) guys, but we've got some new faces — and, from what I've seen, they're more than capable of getting the job done. It's just a matter of who is going to be out there doing it.

    It's worth bearing in mind that, prior to tearing his up his knee against the Bengals that December,  Miller has having a career year in 2012. He set personal bests across the board that year, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called Miller "the best all-around tight end in the league.”

    He was also a top-five fantasy tight end two years ago, a fact that many fantasy owners seem to have forgotten in 2014.

     

    BUSTS

    Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (ADP: Round 3)

    This has very little to do with Rob Gronkowski as a player. When he's on the field, Gronkowski is capable of dominant fantasy production. He had the best fantasy season by a tight end ever in 2011 and was a top-two option in fantasy points per game each of the past two seasons.

    However, that whole "when he's on the field" thing is becoming one bear of a disclaimer with the fifth-year pro.

    Since that record-setting season in 2011, Gronkowski has missed 14 games. This year, the 25-year-old is recovering from an ACL tear.

    Dr. Dave Siebert of Bleacher Report recently opined that, although reports regarding Gronkowski's rehab have been positive, that "he likely still needs a few more months to return to full form. Furthermore, the threat of setbacks in the late stages of rehab—when an athlete feels at or near 100 percent but, in fact, is not—remains very real."

    Even if Gronkowski is ready for Week 1, the specter of another injury looms large over him. Simply put, there isn't a bigger risk/reward pick in all of fantasy football this year.

     

    Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns (ADP: Round 5)

    With offensive coordinator Norv Turner arriving in Cleveland, last year, young tight end Jordan Cameron was a trendy breakout pick among many fantasy pundits.

    Sure enough, Cameron caught 80 passes, topped 900 yards and finished as fantasy's fourth-ranked tight end.

    Now, with Josh Gordon staring at a year-long suspension, even more will be asked of Cameron in 2014. The fourth-year pro told Jeff Schudel of The News-Herald that's he's ready for whatever the Browns ask of him:

    "I’ll be more than willing to put the team on my back," Cameron said. "The bigger the role, the better for me, I would say. I’m willing to take that role on, and I’m excited about that.”

    However, a new role as the team's primary receiving target will mean more attention from opposing defenses, and Cameron already had tailed off later in the year last season. From Week 9 on, Cameron managed only one touchdown catch and one game with over 70 receiving yards, and late-season swoons are bad juju in fantasy football.

    What, with the playoffs and all.

Kicker Rankings

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Ah, the kickers. The red-headed stepchildren of fantasy football.

    There's really only one thing to bear in mind when selecting a fantasy kicker. Wait. Then wait. Then make a sandwich and binge-watch "Orange is the New Black" for a while on Netflix.

    Then wait some more.

    Kickers are notoriously unpredictable. The top 10 at the beginning of the season and the top 10 at the end of the season are usually two entirely different animals.

    With that said, somebody's gotta rank them, so here's a look at the top 15 fantasy kickers of 2014.

     

    1.) Stephen Gostlowski, New England Patriots: Gostkowski hit on over 90 percent of his field-goal attempts last year, tied for the NFL lead in field goals made, and has been a top-three fantasy option each of the past three years.

    2.) Matt Prater, Denver Broncos: Last year, Prater kicked over 20 more extra points than the next closest NFL kicker, which went a long way toward making up for the fact that he attempted only 26 field goals all season long.

    3.) Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks: Hauschka was a top-five fantasy kicker last year and is the prototype for what fantasy owners should look for in a kicker. Young, strong leg, on an offense that's good but not too good.

    4.) Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens: Don't tell Justin Tucker's fantasy owners that kickers don't matter. His six field-goal explosion last year against Detroit (including a 61-yarder) won many teams their games that week in the thick of the playoff chase.

    5.) Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys: Bailey's fantasy production was down a bit last year, but if the Cowboys are going to stay in games in 2014 it's the offense that will need to keep them in them. That should equate to additional opportunities for fantasy production.

    6.) Phil Dawson, San Francisco 49ers: Dawson finished sixth among fantasy kickers in his first season in the Bay Area. Given the robust opportunities 49ers kickers have enjoyed in recent years, that's probably closer to Dawson's fantasy floor than his ceiling.

    7.) Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons: The train wreck that was the Atlanta Falcons in 2013 killed Bryant's fantasy production, but the 39-year-old was a top-five fantasy option two of three years prior to last year's dud.

    8.) Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts: Vinatieri has been fantasy-relevant seemingly since the days of leather helmets, finishing eighth among fantasy kickers in 2013. A strong offense in Indy should keep Vinatieri in the top 10 at least one more year.

    9.) Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers: Crosby is the poster kid for why fantasy kickers are such a pain in the butt. In each of the past two odd-numbered seasons, Crosby has finished inside the top five. In the past two even-numbered years, he's dropped out of the top 10.

    10.) Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings: The youngster with the huge leg was a top-five fantasy option as a rookie in 2012, but Walsh's scoring opportunities, accuracy and fantasy production were all down substantially in 2013.

    11.) Shayne Graham, New Orleans Saints: Mike Triplett of ESPN called Graham "a strong front-runner" to win the offseason kicking competition for the Saints with Derek Dimke. If he does, the scoring opportunities will be there this year.

    12.) Nick Novak, San Diego Chargers: Novak's third-place finish among kickers in 2013 makes him a tempting fantasy option for teams that wait until the last round to take a kicker, but in 2012 Novak finished outside the top 25. There's risk there too.

    13.) Alex Henery, Philadelphia Eagles: Henery barely cracked the top 20 in fantasy points among kickers last year, and his accuracy percentage on kicks ranked a dismal 23rd. Still, there's a lot of upside present given the Eagles' prolific offense.

    14.) Nate Freese, Detroit Lions: A seventh-round pick out of Boston College, Freese is the favorite to be the starting kicker this year in Motown, a place that's produced some solid fantasy numbers in recent seasons.

    15.) Shaun Suisham, Pittsburgh Steelers: Mind you, Suisham isn't going to blow anyone away, but the 10th-year veteran has been a top-15 fantasy kicker each of the past two seasons, which at least affords some measure of safety.

     

    Rankings based on scoring system that awards one point for every PAT, three points for made field goals, and five points for made field goals of 50-plus yards. 

     

Team Defense Rankings

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    With team defenses in fantasy football, it's all about the details.

    In many fantasy leagues, team defenses are essentially an afterthought. They don't score much compared to offensive brethren, and their scoring hinges on inherently fluky stats like sacks and turnovers.

    However, if your league is weighted towards defense or awards points for points and yardage allowed, then spending an earlier pick to acquire a high-end team defense makes a lot more sense.

    With that in mind, and based on the default fantasy scoring at NFL.com, here's a look at the top 15 fantasy defenses in 2014.

     

    1.) Seattle Seahawks: A deep and talented defensive front that just keeps coming. Young and athletic linebackers. "The Legion of Boom" secondary. The Seahawks are the cream of the crop among NFL defenses, and the same holds true in fantasy football.

    2.) San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers' fantasy production was actually down defensively a year ago, but the 49ers remain as talent-laden as any defense in the National Football League. Look for a bounceback season of sorts in 2014.

    3.) St. Louis Rams: Yeah, so the NFC West is going to be a bloodbath in 2014. With the addition of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the Rams are loaded up front, making them a very appealing D/ST in leagues where the scoring favors sacks.

    4.) Cincinnati Bengals: Thanks in no small part to one of the NFL's better pass rushes, the Bengals have posted two straight top-six fantasy finishes among defenses. Coordinator Mike Zimmer is gone, but this remains a rock-solid fantasy unit.

    5.) Carolina Panthers: The Panthers rode one of the NFL's best defenses to an NFC South title last year. The secondary is a bit of a question mark, but 2013 DPOY Luke Kuechly and defensive end Greg Hardy anchor arguably the NFL's best front seven.

    6.) Kansas City Chiefs: Not even a second-half swoon could stop the Chiefs from finishing 2013 as the top fantasy defense in many scoring systems. If they come out of the gate as hot as last year, this ranking is too low.

    7.) Denver Broncos: The stats really don't tell the whole story with the Denver defense last year, and the additions of defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib were all big boosts.

    8.) Houston Texans: Last year's faceplant by the entire team aside, the Texans defense was considered one of the league's best not too long ago. Oh, and Houston just added Jadeveon Clowney to a pass rush that already featured J.J. Watt.

    9.) Arizona Cardinals: The Redbirds were the stingiest defense against the run in the NFL last year and a top-five fantasy squad, but the losses of both Karlos Dansby (free agency) and Daryl Washington (suspension) is going to make a repeat tough.

    10.) Chicago Bears: The Bears were a mess defensively last year, but still managed a top-10 fantasy finish thanks to their affinity for causing turnovers. Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston were brought in in the offseason to bolster the pass rush.

    11.) New England Patriots: The Patriots have long been a defense that fared better in fantasy football than in the NFL. Injuries caused a drop-off last year, but if they get back to full strength the Pats could be a sneaky value play late in fantasy drafts this year.

    12.) Buffalo Bills: The Bills are transitioning to more 4-3 looks in 2014, and with a defensive line featuring ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes and tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams backing up last year's second-place finish in the NFL in sacks shouldn't be a problem.

    13.) Cleveland Browns: Stop laughing. Whether it's Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant up front, Karlos Dansby and Jabaal Sheard at linebacker, or the cornerback duo of Joe Haden and rookie Justin Gilbert, there's some real talent on defense in Cleveland.

    14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers may have lost Darrelle Revis, but Alterraun Verner isn't a bum. Throw in a new defensive end in Michael Johnson and a new head coach in Lovie Smith, and there's more than a little fantasy upside present with the Bucs.

    15.) Green Bay Packers: The kings of the "matchup defenses," Dom Capers' zone blitz is all about sacks and turnovers, which fantasy owners love. What fantasy owners don't love is the eggs that the Packers generally lay at least a few times a year in bad matchups.

     

    Rankings based on scoring system that awards one point for every sack, two points for all turnovers, two points for safeties, six points for all touchdowns and awards points on a sliding scale based on points and yardage allowed.

Draft-Day Strategy Tips

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Now that you've looked at the rankings, examined the sleepers and busts and left a delightfully snarky remark for me in the comments section (if you haven't, go ahead. I'll wait.), here are some draft-day strategy tips to keep in mind in 2014.

     

    Know Your Scoring

    One would think it goes without saying, but every year I see fantasy owners immolate their season on draft day because they thought the league they're playing in is like all the others they've played in before. Are passing touchdowns worth four points or six? Does your league award a point for receptions? Do you start two wideouts each week or three? These factors, and many more, can have a big impact of draft strategy.

     

    Be Patient at Quarterback

    In today's pass-wacky NFL, it's tempting to want to grab an elite signal-caller like Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. However, it isn't about how many points Rodgers scores in 2014. It's how many points he scores versus say Tony Romo, and the gap between those two won't be as big as the hole you'll be in at running back or wide receiver. Quarterback is probably the deepest position in fantasy football this year.

    Use that depth to your advantage.

     

    Go Big or Go Home

    On the other hand, depth is most assuredly a problem at running back. Once you get past the top four or five options, there's a long list of backs facing as many questions as answers this year. If you can't get one of those elite options in 2014 with your first-round pick, your best bet may lie with grabbing an elite wide receiver or Jimmy Graham, then shooting for running back in Round 2 or 3. With that said, don't wait too long, lest you be left staring at a very unappealing pile of options.

     

    Don't Freak Out!

    It happens to the best of us. You're picking at the beginning or end of the round and get caught on the outside looking in at a long positional run. However, don't feel compelled to take a running back because you feel you have to. If there are receivers ranked higher on your personal cheat sheet, grab them. Better to compensate for a deficiency at one position by building as large an advantage as possible at another, than to freak out and reach.

    Panic picks are bad picks.

     

    Swing for the Fences Late

    Depth is important is fantasy football, and veteran players can be a big help in that regard. However, late in your draft, don't be afraid to go big, by rolling the dice on youngsters who are high-risk, high-reward plays. Sure, there's a bigger chance that at some point those players will wind up on your league's waiver wire, but if that "lottery ticket" hits and that player breaks out the reward will be much greater than with a low-upside vet.

     

    Don't Overpay at Defense and Kicker

    Unless your fantasy league's scoring is weighted heavily toward defense, let other owners in your league spend a pick on the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers of the world. In many leagues, you can stream defenses off the waiver wire and cobble together production comparable with "elite" fantasy defenses. Case in point? The Washington Redskins, who open the season with games against Houston and Jacksonville. Don't draft a kicker until the last round. Period.

     

    Have Fun!

    Whether you're playing for bragging rights with buddies or in a high-stakes league, the fact remains that fantasy football is supposed to be fun. A bad draft isn't the Apocalypse. There's still the waiver wire and trades. Besides, that draft you thought was horrible in July might make you look like Norman Einstein in December.

    Don't look at me. That's what Joe Theismann called him.

     

    Good luck this year!

     

    Gary Davenport is an Award-Nominated NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

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