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Fantasy Football 2014: Latest Sleepers and Preseason Rankings

Jun 18, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller (28) runs during a drill at the Bills Minicamp at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
Chris RolingFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 8, 2017

The fantasy football clock is ticking.

Rankings and sleepers are in a constant flux as the dawn of training camps around the league unearth new details, injuries and more—all of which can drastically alter both categories in the blink of an eye.

Something as little as, say, a pass-first team a year ago committing to the run next season has a drastic ripple effect not just on quarterback rankings and sleepers, but the same impact on running backs, wideouts and even defenses.

In short, a go-to, one-stop shop is a must to keep up with the whirlwind pace of the NFL during the summer as fantasy drafts kick into serious gear. Below, the latest is outlined to act as a guide.

 

Top QBs

Rank Player Team
1Peyton ManningDenver Broncos
2Drew BreesNew Orleans Saints
3Matthew StaffordDetroit Lions
4Aaron RodgersGreen Bay Packers
5Robert Griffin IIIWashington Redskins
6Nick FolesPhiladelphia Eagles
7Matt RyanAtlanta Falcons
8Andrew LuckIndianapolis Colts
9Tom BradyNew England Patriots
10Jay CutlerChicago Bears
Rankings

 

Sleepers

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Al Behrman/Associated Press

Pass-happy offensive coordinator Jay Gruden may have moved on to take the head gig in Washington, but the next man up, Hue Jackson, has years of experience with the franchise and won't alter things too drastically.

Besides, coaching changes can tend to mean very little when elite pass-catching options such as A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard and two freakishly athletic tight ends remain.

Owners can be forgiven for letting it slip their minds that Dalton was the No. 5 overall scorer at the position a season ago, reaching double digits in 12 contests. Even in the playoff loss to San Diego that has butchered the TCU product's reputation, the Bengals racked up 439 yards of total offense.

But there Dalton sits with an average draft position of 11.06 as the No. 17 QB. Yikes. Not only is Dalton a capable producer going into his fourth year, he's playing for a new contract, as is a motivated Green and Jermaine Gresham. Young players such as Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu will only continue to develop.

Don't think with emotions. Just pull the trigger.

 

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Two spots above Dalton overall and one spot on the current quarterback hierarchy is AFC North rival Ben Roethlisberger.

Like Dalton, it's easy to forget that Big Ben was quite a hot commodity last season despite the stigma floating around him that he resides in a run-first offense.

That's fair, but don't dismiss the fact No. 1 wideout Antonio Brown led the NFL is receiving last year (Josh Gordon doesn't count at this point), reliable deep threat Lance Moore has joined the fray, and Markus Wheaton will only take another step in development.

Even better, offensive coordinator Todd Haley promises more no-huddle next season, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

We’ve been working hard at it. That’s going to be part of what we do. We don’t want to just give it lip service. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into it and we’ll continue that in minicamp. You can kind of see the guys getting comfortable and making progress. [Ben Roethlisberger’s] comfort level with them is coming along.

Fans with great memories will understand the tussle between Big Ben and his staff last season, which saw him finally get his wish over the last nine games as more no-huddle was implemented.

The result?

He was the No. 4 scoring quarterback in that time. Fully committed to the approach, 2014 is going to be huge.

 

Top RBs

Rank Player Team
1LeSean McCoyPhiladelphia Eagles
2Jamaal CharlesKansas City Chiefs
3Adrian PetersonMinnesota Vikings
4Matt ForteChicago Bears
5DeMarco MurrayDallas Cowboys
6Eddie LacyGreen Bay Packers
7Arian FosterHouston Texans
8Doug MartinTampa Bay Buccaneers
9Andre EllingtonArizona Cardinals
10Marshawn LynchSeattle Seahawks
Rankings

 

Sleepers

Montee Ball, Denver Broncos

JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

Last season's No. 5 scoring back, Knowshon Moreno, is gone. In other words, there is a 242-carry void in Denver next season while teams refuse to stack the box thanks to Peyton Manning and his vast array of aerial weapons.

Which sophomore Montee Ball is quickly becoming as well, if ESPN's Jeff Legwold is to be believed:

Ball earned that optimism by how he played down the stretch last season. He was the most effective runner with the ball in his hands over the last six weeks of the season/postseason. He’s smart and has the requisite work ethic, and the Broncos have seen vast improvements in his work as both a receiver and blocker in the passing game. That gives him the gotta-have-it, every-down potential in their offense.

As noted, Ball came on late last season and has the full attention of the coaching staff. Owners should pay attention as well, as pretty much any back can come in and find success in Denver as long as Manning resides under center.

A pure runner who notched more than 5,000 yards on a 5.6 average in college certainly can too.

 

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

May 28, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller (28) performs a running drill during organized team activities at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

How the mighty have fallen.

Spiller's third-round ADP has him as the No. 16 overall back, and rightfully so after he hardly took more than 200 totes last season and didn't crack 1,000 yards rushing, nor did he breach double-digit points in more than five games.

There is a lot to create pause with Spiller, especially with Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon on the roster.

But look at it another way—Spiller won't be horribly used inside the tackles like he was last season. Instead, he'll be given optimal touches that can get him back to 2012 form—six yards per carry on 207 totes.

 

Top WRs

Rank Player Team
1Calvin JohnsonDetroit Lions
2Brandon MarshallChicago Bears
3Julio JonesAtlanta Falcons
4Dez BryantDallas Cowboys
5Antonio BrownPittsburgh Steelers
6A.J. GreenCincinnati Bengals
7Demaryius ThomasDenver Broncos
8Jordy NelsonGreen Bay Packers
9Keenan AllenSan Diego Chargers
10Victor CruzNew York Giants
Rankings

 

Sleepers

Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

As a rookie, Kenny Stills led the league in yards-per-catch average at 20. In 2014, there's a new rookie in town thanks to Brandin Cooks, but there are also notable losses in Darren Sproles and the aforementioned Moore.

That's 108 receptions and 143 targets that have to go somewhere, and the safe money is on Stills, who may very well become the No. 1 receiver with Marques Colston on the wrong side of 30 and undergoing a clear downswing. 

It helps that the Oklahoma product is Drew Brees' favorite target, as noted by Pro Football Focus:

That 10.09 ADP and No. 48 rank Stills touts at the moment? It's a fraud.

 

Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Wideouts are always a major gamble, so recommending a rookie is always worth serious hesitation.

But hear it out.

Owners are cautious, sure. The LSU product is being taken in the 13th round and is No. 59 at the position. Fine. Eli Manning threw the most picks a season ago (blame the line in front of him) and Victor Cruz is still around, but understand that the Giants are committed to three-wide sets next yer, per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com:

They're installing a spread-'em-out offense that includes three wide receivers on almost every play. They ran a ton of screen passes (most unsuccessfully), quick-timing horizontal pass patterns and three-step drops. It appeared dissimilar to (Tom) Coughlin and former coordinator Kevin Gilbride's vertical attack.

Boom. Beckham doesn't have to compete for snaps. He'll be yet another vertical threat to take the tops off defense, plus he's a major player on kick returns—something he'll be allowed to simulate in the regular offense on screen passes.

Manning loves to spread the wealth, and Beckham Jr. is going to get his in a big way.

 

Top TEs

Rank Player Team
1Jimmy GrahamNew Orleans Saints
2Rob GronkowskiNew England Patriots
3Jordan CameronCleveland Browns
4Julius ThomasDenver Broncos
5Greg OlsenCarolina Panthers
6Jason WittenDallas Cowboys
7Kyle RudolphMinnesota Vikings
8Vernon DavisSan Francisco 49ers
9Jordan ReedWashington
10Ladarius GreenSan Diego Chargers
Rankings

 

Sleepers

Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins

J Pat Carter/Associated Press

Quiz time—which tight end quietly ranked as the No. 7 scorer at the position last year but has an ADP in the 12th round?

Charles Clay.

Clay caught four or more passes in 12 games last season as a safety valve for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who wound up being the most-sacked a season ago.

The line figures to be about as bad, meaning more opportunities for Clay. At 6'3" and 255 pounds, he's a matchup nightmare, a notion ESPN's Field Yates (subscription required) agrees with:

He's nearly 260 pounds, plays from the backfield as a short-yardage ball carrier and lead blocker, can play on the end of the line as a tight end, can flex out into the slot and has terrific catching skills. Any player who can align from so many spots leaves a defensive coordinator wondering how best to slow him down.

A versatile piece always deserves a close look, especially on an offense without a ton of weapons.

 

Top K

RankPlayer Team
1Matt PraterDenver Broncos
2Stephen GostkowskiNew England Patriots
3Mason CrosbyGreen Bay Packers
4Nick NovakSan Diego Chargers
5Dan BaileyDallas Cowboys
6Adam VinatieriIndianapolis Colts
7Phil DawsonSan Francisco 49ers
8Steven HauschkaSeattle Seahawks
9Robbie GouldChicago Bears
10Shayne GrahamNew Orleans Saints
Rankings

 

Sleeper

Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 27:  Kicker Matt Bryant #3 of the Atlanta Falcons kicks a field goal held by punter Matt Bosher #5 during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 27, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It's all about opportunities at kicker.

For Matt Bryant, injuries and a miserable offense butchered any chance he had at a productive fantasy season a year ago—his attempts fell from 38 in 2012 to 27. Still, he managed to post five outings in the double digits.

Bryant connects on better than 84 percent of his tries and he'll obviously be getting back into the normal range in regards to extra-point tries as the offense around him gets healthy. Expect nothing but top-10 production.

 

Top D/ST

RankUnit
1Seattle Seahawks
2Carolina Panthers
3San Francisco 49ers
4Cincinnati Bengals
5New Orleans Saints
6St. Louis Rams
7Denver Broncos
8Arizona Cardinals
9Kansas City Chiefs
10Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rankings

 

Sleeper

Cleveland Browns

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Here's a pick owners are surely tired of seeing each year. Last year, Cleveland was the hot choice, but the unit wound up No. 13 overall in scoring.

But the perfect combination of development and experience is set to push the Browns over the edge in 2014.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

The unit ranked in the top 10 with just 3.9 yards allowed per carry and 5.9 through the air a season ago. This year, the secondary gets an infusion of talent across from Joe Haden with rookie Justin Gilbert.

Even better, linebacker Barkevious Mingo is only going to improve, nose tackle Phil Taylor is still elite and additions such as Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner shore up key spots that were issues after departures. Really, it's one of the most talented units in the league on paper, a notion that will finally translate to the field.

 

All average draft positions courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com. All scoring info courtesy of ESPN standard leagues.

 

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