Fantasy Football 2014: Finding the Best Value for Quarterbacks and Running Backs
Last week, my personal top 200 fantasy football player rankings showed where I value each player at this point in the offseason. Now with the help of these rankings, we can take a look at where the best fantasy values can currently be found at each offensive position.
Today, we’re looking at quarterbacks and running backs. Later this week we’ll delve into the wide receiver and tight end positions.
To determine in which rounds of the draft you will find the top value picks, we will compare my rankings against two of the most statistically sound draft tools in the fantasy universe: FantasyPros.com’s Expert Consensus Ranking (ECR) and FantasyFootballCalculator.com’s Average Draft Position (ADP) for 12-team, standard league mock drafts.
For each player profiled here, a comparison table will help illustrate the difference between these three measures. This variance in rankings will reveal some of the best steals at each position in the early, mid and late rounds of the draft. For the purposes of this piece, these categories are defined as follows, according to each player’s ADP:
- Early Rounds: Nos. 1-5
- Mid Rounds: Nos. 6-10
- Late Rounds: No. 11 or later
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the current top bang-for-your-buck quarterbacks and running backs in fantasy!
Best Early-Round Value: Drew Brees
|Personal Player Ranking:||14th overall (Round 2)||QB2|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||27th overall (Round 3)||QB3|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||24th overall (Round 2)||QB3|
It’s rare to find players in fantasy who are simultaneously dominant and underrated. Such is the case this year with Drew Brees. His third consecutive season posting at least 5,100 passing yards and 42 total touchdowns was overshadowed by Peyton Manning’s all-time great season, leaving Brees as a late second- or early third-round projection.
Headed into 2012, Brees’ ADP was eighth overall. In 2013, he dropped to 20th overall but was the No. 1 QB off the board. This year, Brees finds himself behind Manning and Aaron Rodgers in both ADP and ECR. Two fantasy titans worthy of an early-round selection, Manning and Rodgers possess some health-related risk and therefore have lower floors than the ever-durable Brees.
For those looking for early-round QB value, there’s no safer pick than the guy who has never missed a game due to injury in 13 pro seasons. While it's no slight to draft him behind Manning or Rodgers, allowing such a surefire stud to fall into the third round is simply an act of fantasy foolhardiness.
Early-Round Honorable Mention: Matthew Stafford
|Personal Player Ranking:||34th overall (Round 3)||QB4|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||43rd overall (Round 4)||QB4|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||45th overall (Round 4)||QB4|
Matthew Stafford is up to his ears in receiving weapons this coming season, following the offseason additions of wide receiver Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron to the Lions’ pass-catching corps. Combined with one of the best one-two backfield punches in the league and the game’s most dangerous wide receivers in Calvin Johnson, Stafford should have no trouble racking up monster fantasy totals week after week.
Best Mid-Round Value: Matt Ryan
|Personal Player Ranking:||47th overall (Round 4)||QB6|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||60th overall (Round 5)||QB8|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||79th overall (Round 7)||QB9|
Remember the lesson stated in the intro slide about significant gaps between expert rankings and mock draft ADP? Judging by this metric, there's some tasty value to be found among mid-round QBs this year, and it begins with Matt Ryan.
In 2013, Ryan had an ADP of 55th overall as the sixth quarterback off the board. Then, the Falcons’ two stud wide receivers succumbed to health issues for the majority of the year, and the team collapsed into a pile of fantasy disappointment. Now Roddy White and Julio Jones are expected to be back to full strength for the start of the season, making Ryan a prime candidate to live up to his ADP from a year prior.
The No. 6 fantasy QB in 2012, Ryan was a paragon of consistency that season with both White and Jones on the field, as well as All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez. This year, the team will shift to more three-wide receiver sets to compensate for the retirement of Gonzalez, per NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling, so Ryan's a good bet to continue to be among the league’s leaders in passing attempts for a fifth-straight year.
Mid-Round Honorable Mention: Tony Romo
|Personal Player Ranking:||68th overall (Round 6)||QB9|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||74th overall (Round 7)||QB12|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||98th overall (Round 9)||QB12|
What do you get when you combine one of the league’s worst defenses with one of the NFL’s most pass-heavy offenses? You get a fantasy quarterback with some serious upside. Hello, Tony Romo.
Former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has taken over the play-calling reins in Dallas for 2014, and he brings with him a track record of the league’s fourth, first and first most passing attempts over the past three seasons, respectively. Like Ryan, Romo may not be as exciting a name in fantasy as guys like Andrew Luck or Nick Foles, but their ceilings are just as high.
Mid-Round Honorable Mention: Jay Cutler
|Personal Player Ranking:||81st overall (Round 7)||QB13|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||88th overall (Round 8)||QB14|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||111th overall (Round 10)||QB14|
Chicago Bears quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Josh McCown combined to score the third most fantasy points among QBs in 2013. Armed with a devastating trio of receiving weapons in wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, as well as running back Matt Forte, Cutler is a threat to post top-five quarterback numbers every week he is on the field. The only thing keeping him down this low in the rankings is the fact that he has not played a full 16-game season since 2009.
Best Late-Round Value: Ben Roethlisberger
|Personal Player Ranking:||98th overall (Round 9)||QB15|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||109th overall (Round 10)||QB16|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||142nd overall (Round 12)||QB19|
Over the second half of the 2013 season, Ben Roethlisberger was the fourth-best quarterback in total fantasy scoring. Believe it. This boost in production coincided with a number of in-season changes to the team’s offense.
Most notably, offensive coordinator Todd Haley shifted to a no-huddle offensive approach after Week 7, resulting in nearly 10 more points per game on average for the Steelers. According to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the team will attempt to build off last season’s success and employ this hurry-up style beginning in Week 1.
Also, Roethlisberger’s favorite red-zone target, tight end Heath Miller, is fully healthy following a knee injury that limited him significantly in 2013. Add in an improved offensive line and a formidable rushing attack headed by Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, and the Steelers pass game should open up to produce big numbers for Big Ben in 2014.
Late-Round Honorable Mention: Carson Palmer
|Personal Player Ranking:||125th overall (Round 11)||QB19|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||144th overall (Round 12)||QB21|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||175th overall (Round 15)||QB22|
While the idea that Carson Palmer will ever emerge as a fantasy powerhouse seems highly unlikely, his potential to be a solid QB2 with upside in 2014 is completely within reach. Palmer finished in the top 20 in quarterback fantasy scoring last year and signs point to an improved season forthcoming.
A vastly upgraded offensive line should help keep Palmer upright long enough to find third-year breakout candidate Michael Floyd downfield for some big plays. Additionally, feature running back Andre Ellington is a significant improvement over Rashard Mendenhall in the pass game, and consummate pro Larry Fitzgerald should continue to dominate in the slot.
Best Early-Round Value: DeMarco Murray
|Personal Player Ranking:||9th overall (Round 1)||RB7|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||12th overall (Round 1)||RB8|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||15th overall (Round 2)||RB9|
It may not seem like a large discrepancy between the three above rankings for DeMarco Murray, however, all seasoned fantasy veterans know the importance of finding an early-round stud (and, more importantly, how difficult it is to overcome picking an early-round dud). And in 2013, Murray proved that he has reached true stud status. Both the numbers from last year and the simple eye test back up this claim, and his fantasy outlook appears even brighter this coming season.
All who watched Murray last year saw an all-around, every-down back who ran tough, made defenders miss and possesses elite pass-catching skills. He boasted a league-best 5.2 yards per rushing attempt among backs totaling more than 200 carries and was among the most consistently reliable fantasy producers in the league, according to ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockcroft’s consistency rankings.
Now, Murray heads into 2014 with the aforementioned OC Linehan at the helm. Linehan’s propensity to feature talented receiving backs should keep Murray on the field in all game situations. This should be good news for Murray’s owners considering that the bleak outlook for Dallas’ defense could result in a number of shootouts throughout the season.
Early-Round Honorable Mention: C.J. Spiller
|Personal Player Ranking:||22nd overall (Round 2)||RB11|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||31st overall (Round 3)||RB16|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||31st overall (Round 3)||RB16|
Before last season, C.J. Spiller found his way into the top five in ADP following his historic 2012 season. Spiller finished as the No. 7 fantasy running back that year despite just 250 total touches for more than 1,700 total yards. Expecting his usage rate to rise in 2013, eager owners had visions of broken tackles and game-breaking runs dancing in their heads.
Now following an up-and-down year that saw Spiller’s fellow teammate Fred Jackson lead the team in fantasy points, it’s difficult to pin down exactly where the shifty back should fall in 2014 drafts. Should you bet on the Spiller who has the ability to be the top fantasy running back on any given week? Or, should you avoid the guy who seems to get banged up and come off the field more than your average lead back? Your answer could be the most important fantasy decision you make all year.
Best Mid-Round Value: Joique Bell
|Personal Player Ranking:||41st overall (Round 4)||RB17|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||62nd overall (Round 6)||RB28|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||61st overall (Round 6)||RB27|
Joique Bell continues to fly below the radar of most in the fantasy community, even after he nearly finished as a top-15 running back in 2013. Bell totaled just 23 fewer fantasy points on the season than his backfield compatriot Reggie Bush, despite starting 10 fewer games.
In March, the Lions’ new coaching staff expressed its fondness of Bell in the form of a three-year, $9.3 million contract. The 220-pound bruiser appears to be more durable than Bush and, as a result, he could receive a relatively even split in touches if new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi employs a running-back-by-committee approach.
Bell’s versatility as a receiver (50-plus carries for two straight seasons) or as a goal-line back makes him a valuable asset who may just prove to be the team’s most reliable, week-to-week fantasy producer.
Mid-Round Honorable Mention: Darren Sproles
|Personal Player Ranking:||55th overall (Round 5)||RB23|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||99th overall (Round 9)||RB37|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||76th overall (Round 7)||RB33|
In his three years within the New Orleans Saints’ fast-paced, spread offense, Darren Sproles averaged 77 receptions and 5.4 yards per rushing attempt. Despite now being on the wrong side of 30, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly didn’t sign Sproles to a $10.5 million contract to simply sit him on the bench behind LeSean McCoy.
With dynamic speedster DeSean Jackson now with Washington, Sproles should help fill some of the void, especially in quick receiving routes near the line of scrimmage. Even 8-10 touches per game in Kelly’s offense should produce high-end flex value, a great deal for a running back currently falling to the seventh round of mock drafts.
Co-Best Late-Round Value: Lamar Miller
|Personal Player Ranking:||92nd overall (Round 8)||RB34|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||112th overall (Round 10)||RB40|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||130th overall (Round 11)||RB48|
Ranking revision alert! All through the month of June, reports out of Miami indicate that Lamar Miller, not Knowshon Moreno, is the favorite to lead the Dolphins backfield in 2014. According to ESPN’s James Walker, Miller received the majority of the first-team work in OTAs and “remains clearly ahead” of Moreno in the offseason depth chart, per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.
As Miller enters his third year in the NFL, he is coming off a disappointing sophomore campaign that left owners regretting their use of a mid-round pick on the trendy 2013 sleeper. However, the signing of Moreno may have been just the right incentive to light a fire under Miller. Of course, Miller’s fantasy stock will rise significantly if he holds onto the starting job throughout the offseason. But for now, he is considerably undervalued as a low-end flex with major upside.
Co-Best Late-Round Value: Donald Brown
|Personal Player Ranking:||101st overall (Round 9)||RB36|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||156th overall (Round 13)||RB53|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||170th overall (Round 15)||RB58|
Apparently, most fantasy experts and the average mock drafter have a lot of faith in San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews to stay healthy and lock down the team’s backfield in 2014. This is the only explanation for why Donald Brown, who averaged 5.3 yards per rushing attempt in 2013, finds himself currently ranked outside the top 50 RBs in ECR and ADP.
Mathews just completed his first 16-game campaign in four pro seasons, but he hobbled into the postseason with an ankle injury. Though running backs are sometimes unfairly labeled as “injury-prone,” the moniker may be justified in the case of Mathews. In addition to his most recent ankle issue, Mathews has battled problems with his clavicle, neck, calf, hamstring, knee, groin, foot and elbow since entering the NFL.
The Chargers signed Brown to a $10.5 million, three-year contract this offseason—a significant payday for a backup. Such an investment should, at the very least, raise an eyebrow for those taking Mathews as an early-fourth-round selection, per his current ADP. All Mathews' owners should view Brown as a must-own handcuff.
Late-Round Honorable Mention: Lance Dunbar
|Personal Player Ranking:||161st overall (Round 14)||RB58|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||224th overall (Undrafted)||RB76|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||Unranked||N/A|
Currently undrafted in 12-team leagues, Lance Dunbar should merit a late-round flier in 2014, especially for owners of DeMarco Murray. Reports out of Cowboys training camp suggest that Dunbar is a favorite of OC Linehan who is looking for ways to incorporate the third-year back into the offense, per Bryan Broaddus of the team’s official website. Linehan had great success in Detroit featuring multiple pass-catching backs, and he could look to implement a similar scheme in Dallas.
Late-Round Honorable Mention: Charles Sims
|Personal Player Ranking:||162nd overall (Round 14)||RB59|
|Expert Consensus Ranking:||200th overall (Undrafted)||RB71|
|Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:||Unranked||N/A|
A third-round draft pick out of West Virginia, Charles Sims joins the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a crowded backfield behind 2012 stud Doug Martin. However, following Martin’s injury-riddled sophomore season, the team’s offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford recently stated his plan to “alternate” running backs to decrease the wear and tear on Martin, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. Sims figures to be the best all-around talent in the backfield other than Martin, and it sounds as though he may get some opportunities to impress, even if Martin stays healthy.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. All contract-related information courtesy of Spotrac.com.
James Paradis is a fantasy football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Be sure to check out his entire archive on fantasy strategy and analysis.
@JamesParadisNFL on Twitter
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