Fantasy Football: AFC Fantasy Stocks That Will Soar in Training Camp (Part I)
NFL training camps are right around the corner—a time when players’ fantasy football stocks rise and fall as the beat writer buzz begins to reach fever pitch.
Fantasy owners and analysts alike spend much of the offseason predicting the most undervalued players for the upcoming 2014 season; however, training camp can often foil the anonymity of those coveted sleepers.
Finally, depth chart battles will play out, and guys who have flown under the radar thus far will be outed to the general public as breakout and bounce-back candidates. Players who are in line for an increased role on their team will draw added attention from the media, and outspoken coaches never fail to make headlines regarding such players.
Here, we will take a look at an AFC player on each team whose ADP (average draft position) should rise during training camp, for one reason or another. This is the first part of a two-part series on the AFC, with part two coming later this week.
Using FantasyFootballCalculator.com’s ADP data, the current draft position for each player is listed, followed by a projection for that player’s expected ADP post-training camp.
Next week, we’ll examine the NFC leading right up to the start of camps.
Baltimore Ravens: Bernard Pierce, RB
|Current FFC ADP:||RB36 (90th overall)|
|Projected Post-Camp ADP:||RB30 (70th overall)|
Bernard Pierce’s fantasy stock began its ascent in mid-June after Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post reported that running back Ray Rice, Pierce’s teammate, could receive a “significant” suspension as a result of his off-field actions earlier this year.
I keep hearing that Ray Rice's punishment from the NFL will be "significant" -- 4-6 games, maybe even more.— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) June 16, 2014
The official verdict on Rice’s suspension should be announced by the NFL shortly, at which time Pierce will become a household name (that is, if you live in a house full of fantasy addicts).
Like Rice, Pierce struggled mightily last season, averaging a meager 2.9 yards per carry. He generally lacked the burst and acceleration exhibited just a season earlier, when he averaged a highly respectable 4.9 YPC.
But despite this poor 2013 performance, Pierce remains the “obvious favorite” to lead the Ravens’ backfield while Rice is out, with third-stringer Justin Forsett filling in on passing downs, per Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun.
If Pierce impresses his coaches during his stint as the team’s starter, he could see his fair share of the backfield touches even after Rice’s return. Though only 27 years old, Rice racked up significant miles on his legs over the past five years as Baltimore’s workhorse. Therefore, it would not be at all surprising if the team opts for a RBBC (running-back-by-committee) approach to preserve its All-Pro back.
Pierce has already climbed up nearly two rounds in ADP since May, but expect him to make another jump in the coming weeks. His value may tank upon Rice’s return, but Pierce should make for a low-end RB2/high-end flex play as long as he holds down the main gig.
Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller, RB
|Current FFC ADP:||RB15 (30th overall)|
|Projected Post-Camp ADP:||RB11 (20th overall)|
C.J. Spiller was a top-five pick in 2013 drafts after averaging 6.0 YPC the season prior and looking like the next Jamaal Charles. But after an up-and-down season where he left several games early due to injuries and averaged only 4.6 YPC, the fantasy community promptly downgraded Spiller to RB2 status.
However, nothing makes training camp headlines quite like elite athletic talent combined with minimal-contact drills. A fully healthy Spiller should generate plenty of positive reports from Bills beat writers during training camp. When he’s on the field and at full speed, Spiller is one of the most exciting players to watch in all of football.
With Fred Jackson now an ancient (for a running back) 33 years old, it’s unlikely he will take a huge number of starting reps in camp. Meanwhile, offseason acquisition Bryce Brown should run with the second team.
Chris Brown of the team’s official website recently reported that Spiller should see 20 touches per game this season, “if the offense is operating at peak efficiency.” Going on to describe him as the team’s “bell cow,” Brown puts to rest any question as to whether or not Spiller still stands at the top of the Bills’ backfield pecking order.
As fantasy draft time approaches, Spiller will come nowhere near the top-five ADP he earned a year ago; however, fantasy owners should begin to warm up to the idea of a full-strength Spiller as a late second-round pick.
Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Jones, WR
|Current FFC ADP:||WR50 (129th overall)|
|Projected Post-Camp ADP:||WR40 (105th overall)|
Slowly creeping his way up the fantasy charts is third-year wide receiver Marvin Jones. His mock draft ADP jumped up a full round in standard leagues since mid-June—a sign of things to come once the general public catches on to Jones’ expanded role in the Bengals offense.
Cincy’s new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson broke the news in May that he views Jones as the No. 2 option in the pass game behind super-stud A.J. Green, according to an interview with Geoff Hobson of the team’s official website.
Last year, Jones shared starting reps with teammate Mohamed Sanu, an underwhelming talent compared to his explosive and sure-handed teammate. Given Jackson’s interview comments, including his challenge to Jones to “knock A.J. [Green] off the pedestal” as the Bengals’ top receiver, it appears Jones has edged out Sanu for the full-time starting role.
His fantasy stock will surely rise due to this larger offensive role. But the biggest spike in Jones’ popularity should come as a result of Jackson’s outspoken enthusiasm and ability to generate press. Jackson is never one to be shy with the media, and it’s likely he will make his fondness for Jones well-known to the public in training camp.
Jones’ current ADP puts him in deep-sleeper territory, but that could all change when Jackson’s hype train rolls through training camp later this month. Due to the depth of the wide receiver position this year, Jones should remain a solid value in drafts, but his days as a fantasy “no-name” may be numbered.
Cleveland Browns: Andrew Hawkins, WR
|Current FFC ADP:||WR74 (216th overall)|
|Projected Post-Camp ADP:||WR62 (170th overall)|
Forget LeBron and Manziel for a moment. There’s another Cleveland sports gem soon to be outed as a name to know in fantasy, Andrew Hawkins, who could be in for a big year. The likely benefactor of an expected year-long suspension for 2013 breakout star Josh Gordon, Hawkins appears to have the inside track on the Browns’ No. 1 wide receiver gig for 2014.
At 5’7” and 180 pounds, Hawkins may not look like a typical leading wideout for an NFL team. Though he may be a little guy, “Baby Hawk” boasts big-play ability, and he garnered the attention of coaches and media alike during OTAs.
According to a June report from Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Hawkins has looked like “the best receiver on the field—by far” for the Browns this offseason.
New head coach Mike Pettine also lauded Hawkins as “one of the hardest workers,” and “a guy that is truly trying to get better every day that he takes the field,” per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Clearly Hawkins has made his case to be a leader in the Browns’ wide-receiving corps this year. After tight end Jordan Cameron, Hawkins should see the most targets among Cleveland pass-catchers this season—enticing upside for a guy currently going undrafted in standard leagues.
It may take a couple preseason games before the fantasy community fully catches on to Hawkins. Expect to see a decent jump up the ranks during training camp, followed by another boost once the public finally gets to see Baby Hawk in action.
Denver Broncos: Emmanuel Sanders, WR
|Current FFC ADP:||WR27 (67th overall)|
|Projected Post-Camp ADP:||WR22 (55th overall)|
After rewriting the NFL record books during a historic 2013 season, the aura surrounding Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is almost godlike. So it’s no surprise that Broncos offseason acquisition Emmanuel Sanders recently described playing within a Manning-led offense as “wide receiver heaven,” in an interview with Alex Marvez and Bill Polian on Sirius XM NFL Radio.
Sanders joins the reigning AFC champs following the departure of Eric Decker, a guy who finished top-ten among fantasy wide receivers each of the two seasons since Manning joined the team. And though they are very different players, Sanders will undoubtedly be one of the primary beneficiaries of Decker’s absence.
But despite Decker’s eye-popping numbers since 2012, averaging 86 receptions, 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns, the fantasy community has been hesitant thus far to anoint Sanders as a top-20 prospect at the position. The former Pittsburgh Steeler had a career year in 2013 (67 receptions, 740 yards and six touchdowns), numbers that pale in comparison to Decker's prolific totals; however, once training camp hits, the perception of Sanders should begin to change.
The team’s newest offensive toy, all eyes will be on the elusive fifth-year pro to see how he and Manning mesh and how the coaches plan to use him.
Sanders, like the aforementioned Hawkins and Spiller, has a skill set that tends to blow people away in limited-contact situations. Open-field speed and lateral agility, both strong suits of Sanders, tend to look extra impressive in such a setting. Should Sanders continue to generate positive press, as he did during OTAs, fantasy owners could start to view him as a major breakout candidate.
Given his tremendous opportunity to prosper, it seems inevitable that Sanders’ stock will rise as more people accept that a Decker-esque fantasy season is not outside the realm of possibility.
Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR
|Current FFC ADP:||WR49 (123rd overall)|
|Projected Post-Camp ADP:||WR39 (104th overall)|
Though the Texans are unlikely to trade away longtime star wide receiver Andre Johnson, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, rumors surrounding his potential departure will continue to make headlines. Whether or not Johnson actually leaves town, the threat of his absence has shined the fantasy spotlight on the team’s No. 2 wideout, DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins had a productive rookie season, especially considering the abominable quarterback play he received and the team’s overall collapse that led to a 14-game losing streak. The first-round pick out of Clemson totaled 52 receptions and 802 yards in a stealthily consistent season for a first-year starter that included nine games with more than 50 receiving yards.
At age 22, Hopkins still has a raw skill set but great hands and plenty of room to grow as a receiver. He’s a prime candidate to make a jump his sophomore season, even with the ever-inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick now under center.
With Johnson holding out during the team’s mandatory minicamp in June, Hopkins and Fitzpatrick seemed to form a solid rapport with one another, according to NFL Around the League’s Chris Wesseling and confirmed by the Sideline View’s Lance Zierlein.
As long as Johnson’s 2014 status with the team remains less than 100 percent clear, the hype around Hopkins will continue to build. With players such as Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey listed as the Houston’s second-string receivers, per Ourlads.com, there is not a ton of promising talent on the team outside of Hopkins.
With an ADP nearly outside the top 50 at his position, Hopkins' draft stock will assuredly see a boost as the offseason kicks into high gear.
Indianapolis Colts: Dwayne Allen, TE
|Current FFC ADP:||TE20 (206th overall)|
|Projected Post-Camp ADP:||TE17 (170th overall)|
Currently drafted behind the likes of Dallas Clark and Brent Celek, third-year tight end Dwayne Allen is barely on the radar of most fantasy owners.
That’s all about to change.
A hip injury suffered in Week 1 of last year placed Allen on season-ending injured reserve. Now fully healthy, the former third-round pick is poised to resume his role as an integral facet of the Colts’ offense.
It’s easy for a guy like Allen to get lost in Indy’s crowded receiving corps. Boasting three big names at wide receiver—Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and newcomer Hakeem Nicks—as well as another solid pass-catching tight end in Coby Fleener, one may wonder if quarterback Andrew Luck’s targets will be spread too thin to sustain value for a guy like Allen.
But despite these big names, Allen should be one of the more prominently featured receivers in offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s 2014 offense.
According to a report from Kevin Bowen of the team’s official website, “the possibilities are endless” for the ways in which the team will use Allen’s versatile skill set. Hamilton frequently employs multiple tight end sets, but his schemes should favor Allen, currently listed ahead of Fleener on the team’s depth chart, per Ourlads.com.
Colts’ tight end coach Alfredo Roberts sees Allen as a more dynamic weapon than Fleener—someone who can be used in various formations and schemes, per Bowen. “[Allen] gives us an advantage because he can do some things in the backfield, do some things in-line, where Coby we feel like has blossomed as an outside guy,” Roberts remarked.
Allen is currently going undrafted, on average, in standard league mock drafts. Once training camp reports trumpet his featured receiving role in Luck’s offense, Allen should make one of the biggest ADP jumps in fantasy between now and draft day.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Toby Gerhart, RB
|Current FFC ADP:||RB18 (36th overall)|
|Projected Post-Camp ADP:||RB17 (34th overall)|
With a highly questionable quarterback situation and an uncertain depth chart at wide receiver, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offseason's only real standout offensive player thus far has been running back Toby Gerhart. Serving as the Minnesota Vikings' backup to Adrian Peterson over the past four seasons, the Jags signed Gerhart this year to supplant longtime veteran Maurice Jones-Drew as the team’s workhorse back.
Gerhart’s ADP has already seen a considerable rise on FantasyFootballCalculator.com, vaulting him up to the end of the third round in standard leagues; however, this seems to be an uncharacteristically high draft position compared to other leading sites.
For example, ESPN.com lists Gerhart’s ADP as RB30 (76th overall), punctuating just how split opinions are on the 27-year-old at this point in time.
It’s unlikely that Gerhart will rise above mid-RB2 status prior to the regular season, no matter how much positive press he receives during camp—after all, he does still play for Jacksonville, a team that has averaged only six rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Still, as one of the few true bell-cow running backs falling outside the second round of fantasy drafts, it will be hard for most owners to pass on the upside of Gerhart for other guys in a timeshare.
Due to limited, albeit productive, work during his tenure with the Vikings, Gerhart is somewhat of an unknown quantity as a starter. But so far it appears his outlook is promising, as he’s received significant praise from coaches and several NFL “personnel guys,” according to NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah:
Here's a name that keeps coming up in my talks with personnel guys around the league: Toby Gerhart. High expectations for 2014.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 25, 2014
Soon enough, most fantasy owners should share those high expectations, and Gerhart will see his price tag get a little heftier in drafts.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
James Paradis is a fantasy football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Be sure to check out his entire archive on fantasy strategy and analysis.
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