Stat Projections for 10 Top NFL Fantasy Studs
There was a time when the running back was far and away the most coveted position in fantasy football. Teams climbed on the backs of their bell cow running backs and carried them all the way to championships. Nearly everyone’s big board was packed with running backs, and other positions were an afterthought.
Today’s NFL has changed all that. And with it, fantasy football strategies have evolved. There are still some incredibly talented backs in the league who will put up impressive numbers. However, the distribution across the league is much more balanced. This means, on a weekly basis, there are 18-20 backs in the league that can finish in the top five among fantasy scores.
The key to winning any fantasy league is winning big in the first two rounds. That means getting players who might never be the top fantasy player for a week but will never slip low enough to make you regret spending the pick on them. This also means that what used to be a running back-laden list has been infiltrated by quarterbacks and wide receivers.
Let’s take a look at my 10 biggest fantasy studs and their stat projections for 2014.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs have the most versatile, explosive offensive weapon in the league in running back Jamaal Charles. Charles is a threat to turn every play into a big one with his speed and acceleration, not to mention he has the full confidence of the team, including quarterback Alex Smith.
With the loss of Dexter McCluster, look for Charles’ 104 targets in the passing game to at minimum stay the same, but likely increase. Obviously, if the Chiefs' new pieces along the offensive line jell, it will make like easier for Charles.
However, Charles shook off the reputation for being too small to pound it between the tackles in 2013, so as long as he’s healthy, he’ll be a consistent producer every week.
2014 Projections: 1,297 yards rushing, 688 yards receiving, 67 receptions, 16 total touchdowns
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
If you are looking for a safer pick, or if your league doesn’t award points for receptions, you can’t go wrong with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. With AD back to full health and a new quarterback in place, look for big things from Peterson this season.
With the weapons the Vikings have on offense, defenses are going to be forced to respect them and won’t be able to stack nine in the box as they have in the past. You can almost certainly pencil him in for at least 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
The key will be how quickly rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gets up to speed. Keep in mind, in 2012, the only season Peterson started all 16 games, he rushed for 2,097 yards with Christian Ponder under center.
2014 Projections: 1,672 yards rushing, 215 yards receiving, 34 receptions, 21 total touchdowns
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The term “elite” gets tossed around a lot when talking about NFL quarterbacks. The rub is that in many cases pundits are taking creative license with the term. One quarterback where it is hard to argue is Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers. After missing all or part of eight games in 2013 with a broken collarbone, he is back and better than ever.
With a power running back like Eddie Lacy to keep defenses honest and three exceptional talents at wide receiver, Rodgers could be poised for a huge year. There’s no doubt Rodgers is going to rack up stats regardless of who he’s throwing to, but Lacy in his second year could be the real X-factor.
2014 Projections: 4,575 yards passing, 235 yards rushing, 42 total touchdowns
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Can we all agree now that the Chip Kelly offense can work in the NFL? If you have any doubts, just ask Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy what he thinks. McCoy enjoyed the most successful season of his career with 2,146 yards of offense and 11 total touchdowns.
What will happen with 2014? There could be something of a slide for McCoy, mainly due to the addition of Darren Sproles. When Kelly’s offense is working at optimum efficiency it is the running backs that reap the rewards, especially in the passing game. McCoy was targeted 65 times in 2013, but that number will probably dip.
Where McCoy could see a nice bump in stats is rushing touchdowns. The Eagles offense is really going to hum this year, and when they get around the goal line, McCoy is going to be the man.
2014 Projections: 1,501 yards rushing, 345 yards receiving, 41 receptions, 16 total touchdowns
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte is another player who is going to feast on defenses that are forced to respect the pass. With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery out wide, there are lanes for Forte to exploit.
Forte enjoyed his best season in the NFL in 2013 with 1,933 total yards and 12 total touchdowns. The key for Forte is staying healthy enough to remain on the field. Forte missed starts in both 2012 and 2011, so some want to force the injury-prone label on him.
Forte is incredibly consistent. He averages just under 4.5 yards per carry and just over 8.5 yards per reception for his career. The one area of his game to expect improvement in this year will be in his touchdowns. That’s where he can bump his stats up in 2014.
2014 Projections: 1,279 yards rushing, 505 yards receiving, 60 receptions, 13 total touchdowns
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Projecting a wide receiver amongst the elite fantasy prospects is hard to pull off. Detroit Lion Calvin Johnson is certainly among the most talented football players in the league at any position. Johnson has averaged over 105 yards receiving per game for the past three years. This is kind of consistency that makes him a strong contender to be the top wide receiver off the board.
The problem with projecting a player like Johnson is deciding if he is going to score enough to warrant being taken so early. It is really going to help Johnson having rookie tight end Eric Ebron on the field to drive some of the coverage away from him.
It is important to note that Johnson missed two starts in 2013 and still hauled in 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns. If things fall right for Johnson, expect him to approach his ridiculous 2012 season where he caught 122 balls for 1,964 yards and five touchdowns.
2014 Projections: 101 receptions, 1,767 yards receiving, 11 touchdowns
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are going to have one of the most balanced offenses in the league in 2014. We’ve already talked about how good quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be this season. Now we throw in running back Eddie Lacy.
Just like the presence of Lacy will pay off for Rodgers, the same can be said for the reverse. Teams can’t stack the box on early downs, and that’s going to give Lacy some tasty fronts to run at. Lacy topped double-digit touchdowns on the ground as a rookie, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t happen again.
Lacy might not be the flashiest back, but when you are looking for consistent production every week and solid scoring all season long, it is hard to go wrong with Lacy. He has very little competition for carries on the roster, and doesn’t need to come off the field.
2014 Projections: 1,214 yards rushing, 234 yards receiving, 32 receptions, 14 total touchdowns
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
There is going to come a point where Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning isn’t a top quarterback. However, 2014 is not going to be the year. In fact, Manning enters the season with one of his most talented groups of skill players.
Denver replaced Eric Decker with Emmanuel Sanders and still has Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. Granted, the odds of Manning repeating the 5,477-yard, 55-touchdown performance of 2013 are slim, but it won’t matter. Manning is still likely to be the top fantasy player again this season and worthy of a top pick.
Another aspect of Denver’s team that plays to the advantage of Manning is a more consistent rushing attack. If Montee Ball can create even a modicum of consistency with the rushing game, Manning is going to get even more opportunities throwing the football.
2014 Projections: 5,271 yards passing, 48 total touchdowns
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
If there is any wide receiver poised to unseat Calvin Johnson as the top wide receiver in the league, it could be Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. Bryant has amassed 185 catches, 2,615 yards and 25 touchdowns over the past two seasons. These are ridiculous numbers, especially for the lack of press he gets for his production.
Bryant and Terrance Williams form one of the more formidable duos in the league. The key will be can the Cowboys rushing attack do enough to force defenses to respect the run and the pass. This will mean the health of DeMarco Murray will be vital. Assuming that happens, don’t be shocked if Bryant approaches 100 receptions with ease.
2014 Projections: 107 receptions, 1,801 yards receiving, 9 touchdowns
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Some may not look at Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck as an elite fantasy prospect, but the potential is certainly there. In his first two seasons, his passing yards dipped around 552 yards, but he was able to maintain the number of passing touchdowns and significantly cut down his interceptions.
To add to Luck’s potential, he has averaged 316 yards rushing and 4.5 rushing touchdowns a year. These are those hidden stats that are now becoming more and more a part of the norm for NFL quarterbacks.
Adding to what could be a massive year for Luck is the potential return of wide receiver Reggie Wayne. You pair him up with T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and two great receiving tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and it won’t even matter that running back Trent Richardson is a bum. Luck is going to be able to just air it out all day and use that scary athleticism to rack up big numbers.
2014 Projections: 4,621 yards passing, 434 yards rushing, 38 total touchdowns
All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.