Fantasy Football 2014: Ranking Top Skill Position Players Heading into Preseason

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IJuly 31, 2014

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos run off the field after a score during a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 30, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 38-3. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Football—albeit preseason—games are almost here. We are still over a month away from the first regular-season football game of the year, but most fantasy football drafts are kicking off soon.

Every owner will be watching the preseason matchups to get a better look at the fresh crop of talent and make sure none of his favorite players go down. But well before the season even gets started, owners already know their top players.

Now is the time of year that fantasy draft sheets start getting filled out, and nearly everything is questioned. 

Will players like Doug Martin and Julio Jones bounce back from injuries? Is Peyton Manning going to replicate his numbers from last season? Which second-year players will break out this year?

With all of those questions in mind and less than a week before the preseason begins, time is running out. Here's a look at the top 10 players at each position and a breakdown of notable names.

Top Skill Position Players
1Peyton ManningDenver Broncos
2Drew BreesNew Orleans Saints
3Aaron RodgersGreen Bay Packers
4Matthew StaffordDetroit Lions
5Andrew LuckIndianapolis Colts
6Cam NewtonCarolina Panthers
7Nick FolesPhiladelphia Eagles
8Robert Griffin IIIWashington Redskins
9Russell WilsonSeattle Seahawks
10Colin KaepernickSan Francisco 49ers
Running Back
1Adrian PetersonMinnesota Vikings
2LeSean McCoyPhiladelphia Eagles
3Jamaal CharlesKansas City Chiefs
4Matt ForteChicago Bears
5Eddie LacyGreen Bay Packers
6Marshawn LynchSeattle Seahawks
7Arian FosterHouston Texans
8Doug MartinTampa Bay Buccaneers
9DeMarco MurrayDallas Cowboys
10Le'Veon BellPittsburgh Steelers
Wide Receiver
1Calvin JohnsonDetroit Lions
2Demaryius ThomasDenver Broncos
3Dez BryantDallas Cowboys
4A.J. GreenCincinnati Bengals
5Brandon MarshallChicago Bears
6Jordy NelsonGreen Bay Packers
7Antonio BrownPittsburgh Steelers
8Julio JonesAtlanta Falcons
9Alshon JefferyChicago Bears
10Andre JohnsonHouston Texans
Tight End
1Jimmy GrahamNew Orleans Saints
2Julius ThomasDenver Broncos
3Vernon DavisSan Francisco 49ers
4Rob GronkowskiNew England Patriots
5Jordan CameronCleveland Browns
6Greg OlsenCarolina Panthers
7Jason WittenDallas Cowboys
8Jordan ReedWashington Redskins
9Dennis PittaBaltimore Ravens
10Kyle RudolphMinnesota Vikings
Cory Smith's Fantasy Rankings


Did you really expect to see anyone else at the top of that list?

Manning put up the best numbers of any quarterback in the history of the game last year. If he can come anywhere in the neighborhood of those statistics again, Manning is certainly worth being the top signal-caller off the board.

Just how ridiculous was his production last season? ESPN Stats & Info gives a pretty good idea of the numbers he put up:

Moving on from the obvious choice at the top, his successor doesn't look like a shabby pick either.

Cracking the top five this year is Andrew Luck, who has been a consistent quarterback the last few seasons but not quite at the echelon of Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. This year, that will change.

Along with his great arm and ability to move the team down the field with ease, Luck should be surprising no one with his athleticism at this point. The third-year quarterback rushed for 377 yards and four touchdowns last season.

That inspired some pretty interesting comments from teammate Darius Butler, per The Indianapolis Star:

The Indianapolis Colts have Reggie Wayne back and an emerging star in T.Y. Hilton. If Wayne can put up consistent numbers and remain healthy, Luck will have another great year and become a fantasy owner's dream.

One quarterback to watch will be Jay Cutler. Though he wasn't a huge fantasy producer last year, he gets another season with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery along with confidence from a new contract.

Running Back

Let's be honest: If an owner has a top-three pick this year, he doesn't really care which running back falls to him.

Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles are 1a, 1b and 1c. Anyone after that is just picking and praying that his running back will produce the numbers of a top-tier player, with the exception of Matt Forte.

Forte has carried the load for several years with the Chicago Bears but is ready to do the same again this season. The 28-year-old spoke about breaking the mold for tailbacks, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:

I want to break the stereotype of old running backs going downhill. This offseason I feel better than I have the past five or six offseasons. I got my rest and I know how to take care of my body now.

Yeah, it is going to be harder and harder every year, but as long as you continue to have your set routine and stick to it, and a lot of prayer too, that helps a lot. Health is the main deal.

The veteran backs at the top can be chosen with confidence. The second-year players are the ones who have question marks.

Out of those, both Eddie Lacy and Le'Veon Bell have the most value heading into their sophomore seasons. Bell sneaked into the top 10 thanks to his explosive play on the field last season, but even he has question marks with LeGarrette Blount potentially getting red-zone touches.

As for Lacy, expect yet another huge year from the Green Bay Packers' workhorse. One big difference between 2013 and this coming season? Lacy plans on being utilized more in the passing game, as he told Mike Spofford of

“It expands the offense, first and foremost,” Lacy said. “It gives the quarterback another target. Even if it’s not a 10-yard, 20-yard pass down the field, those 4- and 5-yard passes, it moves the chains and wears down the interior defense as well.”

Tack on the fact that he has a chance to share the backfield with Rodgers for a full season, and Lacy will be even more dangerous this season. After a breakout rookie campaign, expect Lacy to explode and add push to crack the top three after this season.

Wide Receiver

Unlike the running back position, the wide receiver crop this year is unreal.

When names like Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson and Victor Cruz can't even break the top 10, that's a stacked position. Much like the quarterbacks, there is a clear receiver at the top, but everything else is debatable.

Just below Calvin Johnson is none other than Demaryius Thomas. That's where it gets dicey for most fantasy owners. There is a wealth of talent just below the two, but who is the true No. 3 receiver?

For me, it has to be Dez Bryant. While ranking the best overall receivers in the NFL, Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated also explained exactly why Bryant is one of the best fantasy wideouts:

Bryant set a single-season record last year with nine touchdown catches from one to five yards out, and his 41.8 percent career touchdown catch rate in the red zone (23 touchdowns on 35 catches) is the highest in the history of Football Outsiders' metrics. Bryant has shown remarkable consistency in the last two seasons, but his hidden value is in his matchless efficiency when it's time to score touchdowns.

Though his quarterback is constantly scrutinized, Tony Romo also knows exactly whom to look for in the red zone. With his value soaring after last year, Bryant is easily one of the top three receivers for fantasy owners.

Some of the other names are obvious like A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall, but one undervalued receiver tends to be Jordy Nelson. Randall Cobb is returning, but John Buccigross of ESPN points out just how massive a threat Nelson is down the field:

Though Cobb will definitely get some of the targets this year, expect Nelson to still be a consistent receiver yet again. His quarterback is Rodgers, after all. 

Tight End

Another position, another clear-cut player at the top of the list. Some owners might be able to debate Peterson at the top over McCoy or say another receiver will out-produce Johnson, but nobody is questioning Graham as the top tight end in fantasy.

As far as tight ends go, Graham is a machine. He even went so far this offseason as to attempt to change his position to be labeled as a receiver rather than a tight end—an extremely debatable topic.

Don't just take Graham's word that he's worthy of being labeled as a receiver. Rob Phillips of compares him to top wideouts in the league:

Just below the tier that Graham currently stands on by himself, Julius Thomas and Vernon Davis look like the safest bets. For those looking to take a chance, Rob Gronkowski is the clear option for production.

Though Gronkowski is lower on this list than either due to his injury risk, he has been on the field and looking good in limited action. Gronkowski spoke about his work in training camp thus far, per Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today:

I'm a little rough around the edges, running routes with no hitting or anything. It's definitely tough to be watching my teammates going out and doing everything — not being part of the team drills and the hitting drills. So it motivates me to see my teammates working hard every day; it makes me work hard so I can get back out there and be with them.

If he's ready to go, Gronk will have yet another explosive season. As for the man just behind him, expect Jordan Cameron to be one of the best tight ends throughout the season.

While he wasn't as consistent as some owners wanted last year, the potential suspension of Josh Gordon means Cameron could be getting more targets. Regardless of who's behind center, Cameron will be one of the best options on the Cleveland Browns roster.

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