Fantasy Football Cheatsheet 2014: Recapping the Top 10 Players at Every Position
If you are in the NFL industry, the time from late June until training camp is a quiet one. If you are in the fantasy industry behind it, this is quietly one of the busiest parts of the calendar. It is draft prep season!
Summer reading usually includes a gamut of fantasy football periodicals. NFL offseason movement is over, analyst rankings are formed and individual draft boards are being put together. Sure, training camp news, injuries and position battles will alter opinions come late July and August, but the fantasy foundations are laid.
We take a look at our early fantasy football rankings for 2014 in this slideshow, outlining and analyzing the top-10 players by position. We reserve the right to change our minds come training camp and the preseason, but we welcome your harshest of criticisms.
Heck, if you're as well-read as us in the fantasy realm, we might even consider changing our minds on your advice. Give us a piece of it in the comments section below.
Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning Showed He's Not Ready to Give Up the Top Spot
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
You can be scared of him because he is 38 and has surgically fused vertebrae in his neck, but passing on him last year for those reasons was a huge mistake, too.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
He might have lost some weapons, but he is so good he makes whoever is catching his passes immediate threats. His 2013 shoulder injury is not a concern here.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
He is the only four-time 5,000-yard passer in NFL history, and he hopes to play into his 40s. We called him a bust candidate a year ago because of his age. We likely won't go there again.
4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Third seasons tend to be breakthroughs. The Colts offense has an embarrassment of riches and Luck can step forward to be a 4,500-yard, 30-touchdown statistical monster.
5. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
The additions of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron give Stafford his most dynamic set of weapons in his career. That's a scary thought when you consider he has a 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown season already.
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
7. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
He is this year's Colin Kaepernick. Everyone loved Kaep after a partial season. Foles has a lot of potential in that offense, but there are just too many more consistent veteran quarterbacks to choose from.
8. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
The decimation of his wide receivers corps forces us to rank him far lower than his own talent suggests. Also, the Panthers are a defensive team that won't push the pace offensively like some others above.
9. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
A complete season from Michael Crabtree and the addition of Stevie Johnson should help Kaepernick be better this year. We have to admit he was a fantasy disappointment in his first full season as a starter.
10. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
You can draft some better athletes and some other quarterbacks with more aggressive offenses, but Brady earned the last spot here because of his year-to-year and week-to-week consistency.
Running Backs: It Has Gotten Crowded at the Top
1. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
A breakthrough MVP-caliber season can be attributed to a number of factors, most notably Andy Reid's running back-friendly system and Charles being smack dab in his prime.
2. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
You can make a case for McCoy at No. 1 overall because of his involvement of Chip Kelly's run-heavy attack. Darren Sproles won't take enough out of him to keep you from picking him second overall.
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
He is entering the twilight of his career at age 29 now. Also, despite being arguably the best back of his generation, the Vikings offense still doesn't have a true threat in the passing game to stretch the eight-man boxes.
4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
The PPR gem is a workhorse in a running back-friendly system. He added touchdowns to his resume a year ago, which puts him in the elite class of fantasy running back in any format.
5. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
We obviously don't buy the retirement talk, or the overplayed suggestion the Seahawks are going to give Christine Michael more touches in lieu of Lynch. He is still a fantasy bell cow.
6. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Lacy enjoyed a great rookie year, but we have to wonder how much of his production down the stretch might have been mitigated if Aaron Rodgers was healthy. Rodgers tends to be a touchdown hog.
7. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are built to score a lot of points, mostly because their weak defense forces them to. The running game won't be abandoned as long as Murray is healthy, though.
8. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We shouldn't be concerned about his shoulder injury and we should love the fact a conservative, defensive coach like Lovie Smith was hired to take over. Martin is going to have a bounce-back year.
9. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
You probably can hold off on him in the late first round and see him on the board in Round 2, but we still see Foster as one of the few backs who carries his team offensively, when healthy.
10. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
You shouldn't question his placement here, outside of the unknown of how Jay Gruden's offense will play out in Washington. It should be more pass-happy than the past regime. Regardless, Morris should be kept in the top 10.
Wide Receivers: Calvin Johnson Should Remain the Top of the Class
1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
He might not have finished No. 1 last season for the first time in years, but he dealt with some nagging injuries he has taken care of this offseason. He is still the lone first-round fantasy wideout in our book.
2. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Some might scoff at this selection here because of a seemingly mediocre quarterback in Andy Dalton and a run-heavy scheme under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, but the eight-man boxes are going to free up Green more than ever.
3. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
The Broncos might want to play more conservatively, but Peyton Manning and Thomas are just too good to allow them to. Thomas should benefit from the loss of Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker, too.
4. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
You can make a case for him being the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy, especially because the Dallas Cowboys figure to engage in so many shootouts. The trio above represent safer options, though.
5. Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
You can see more targets going to Alshon Jeffery and plan for some regression in his 30s, but there are still plenty of targets that will go his way in Marc Trestman's West Coast offense.
6. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Jones is going to be available longer than he should be in drafts because he is coming off the injury-hit season and the Falcons had a down year. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact Jones is ready to take off.
7. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
His breakthrough came before his third season, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't expect continued improvement. Jeffery is going to be the Bears' best fantasy wideout by year's end, if he isn't already.
8. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
This ranking might be too low for someone coming off a near 1,500-yard season at age 25, but the Steelers are still a run-first team in a defense-first division. Brown is more solid than spectacular among elite wideouts.
9. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
He was headed for a monster year before Aaron Rodgers went down. Rodgers should stay healthy this time around and James Jones—or perhaps Jermichael Finley either—is no longer there to steal production.
10. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
Cobb will be a PPR gem even if Nelson trumps him on yards and touchdowns in Rodgers' offense. Cobb is 25 and playing for a big contract. Those are things you dream of for a top-10 fantasy wideout.
Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham Considers Himself a Wide Receiver, but We Don't Agree
1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
If Graham wins his grievance and is declared a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes, should we follow suit in fantasy? Probably not. Graham looks like he might be a rare Round 1 fantasy tight end.
2. Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
You have to figure last season's breakout was just scratching the surface. That is a scary notion for those that miss out on Orange Julius in drafts.
3. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
He looks headed for a Week 1 return this time around. The problem is what week are we going to wind up frustrated with the next injury woe?
4. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
A healthy year from Michael Crabtree and the addition of Stevie Johnson should open up more seam-busting routes for Davis and Colin Kaepernick. Davis is well-positioned behind the elite tight end trio above.
5. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns
He has shown flashes of elite potential. The problem with ranking him higher are the question marks surrounding the Browns' overall offensive production—especially if Josh Gordon is suspended—and the uncertainty at quarterback.
6. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
He has played through any injuries he has had in his career, but that gets a lot tougher to do at age 32. Still, he will be a frequent target of Tony Romo, even if those targets don't come as often.
7. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
He is an intriguing case, because the Panthers' Cam Newton really needs a go-to man now that Steve Smith is in Baltimore. Olsen can enjoy a career year at age 29.
8. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
He showed some high-end potential as a rookie and the varied weapons now at Robert Griffin III's disposal can help free up Reed down the seam and in the red zone.
9. Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears
Playing with a gunslinger like Jay Cutler in a pass-happy Bears attack should lure you to drafting him among the fantasy starting options—even if there is little to choose between the tight ends after the elite few.
10. Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens
He is coming off an injury-plagued year, but most other players wouldn't had played a down after having the hip surgery Pitta had. He is going to be a big part of Joe Flacco's weekly game plan.
Kickers: Stephen Gostkowski Keeps Top Honor Due to Consistency
1. Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
The Pats will produce points, especially in that division, but Tom Brady is not quite the touchdown assassin he once was. Gostkowski is the most consistent year-to-year producer here.
2. Matt Prater, Denver Broncos
That record number of touchdown passes could become field-goal attempts this season. Regardless, the Broncos will produce too many points to overlook their kicker.
3. Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks
You want your kicker to be backed by a good defense and a strong running game. That is how you win field position and support a kicker. Hauschka wins there with the Seahawks.
4. Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
He has a strong, accurate leg, but his offense just doesn't have the juice of the kickers we ranked above him. If talent was the only measuring stick in fantasy, Tucker would be No. 1.
5. Phil Dawson, San Francisco 49ers
You might have been disappointed with him out of the gate last year, but he was a monster down the stretch. His second year in San Fran will be a lot better end to end.
6. Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
Many wrote him off after his shaky 2012, but he rebounded and re-established himself as a fantasy starter. You have to love the production provided from an Aaron Rodgers-led offense.
7. Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
He isn't the leg he used to be, but the 41-year-old kicks more than half of his games in favorable conditions (mostly indoors) and the Colts offense has the potential for a huge breakthrough in Andrew Luck's third season.
8. Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
We fully expect the Falcons to enjoy a rebound season, which will make their kicker one of fantasy's most productive options again.
9. Alex Henery, Philadelphia Eagles
This high ranking raises some eyebrows, but we look at overall offensive production when ranking kickers. The Eagles project to score a lot of points, no matter what you think of Henery. Clearly, we like his talent more than most.
10. Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys
Another kicker who is highly rated for the production around him. Bailey is coming off a very good year, and the Cowboys offense might be even better this time around.
Defense/Special Teams: Legion of Boomers Have to Be the Top Choice Here
1. Seattle Seahawks
They toppled the most prolific offense in NFL history in the Super Bowl, and they have a huge home-field advantage. There is no other place to rank the Legion of Boom.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Age and injury are taking their toll on this unit, but the 49ers figure to remain among the best defenses in the toughest division in football.
3. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers enjoyed a breakthrough last season, and their lack of offensive weapons figures to force them to play conservatively offensively. That is a good way to support a fantasy defensive unit.
4. Denver Broncos
They added the most elite players to their defense in free agency. It should help them become one of fantasy's most reliable units, even if the explosive offense forces some garbage time.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Marvin Lewis is a defense-first head coach, something you want out of your fantasy unit. The team plays to support the defense, not the offense, something that is becoming rare in the modern NFL.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They lost Darrelle Revis, but they gained head coach Lovie Smith and some complementary pieces in free agency. They are going to emerge as one of the NFL's best defenses like the Panthers did a year ago.
7. St. Louis Rams
This was already a talented, sack-heavy unit. They added the best defensive tackle in the draft in Aaron Donald and play in a defense-heavy division. They are better than most think.
8. Arizona Cardinals
This ranking is based on the expectation Tyrann Mathieu will rebound from reconstructive knee surgery. The loss of Daryl Washington hurts them. We reserve the right to drop this unit from the top 10 before fantasy drafts.
9. Kansas City Chiefs
They were game-breakers early on last season, and just broken down the stretch. The reality for this talented unit lies somewhere in between.
10. New Orleans Saints
Rob Ryan made a huge difference last year, as should free-agent acquisition Jairus Byrd. This is not a polished top-10 option, but we give them the nod because of their coordinator right now.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.