Fantasy Football 2014: Top Player Rankings and Latest Sleepers to Watch

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2014

Arizona Cardinals' Carson Palmer flips the ball back to the center after he takes a snap during the first day of NFL football training camp on Saturday, July 26, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

The perils a fantasy football owner encounters this time of year with things in a constant state of flux are downright unfair.

Thanks to training camp—and its roster battles, injuries and downright unnecessary positivity for most players—the summer stretch as drafts continue to roll out is the easiest time for an owner to lose a league before even setting the first lineup of the season.

Earlier in the summer, rankings were purely based on past performance and some sort of projections, but now the rankings tables and even sleeper candidates can also have recent news mixed in to give owners a better idea of how to navigate the dangerous draft waters.

Below, let's nail down some updated rankings at each position and identify some major sleepers to nab now before the general public catches up.

Top QBs

Rank Player Team
1 Peyton Manning Denver Broncos
2 Drew Brees New Orleans Saints
3 Matthew Stafford Detroit Lions
4 Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers
5 Robert Griffin III Washington
6 Nick Foles Philadelphia Eagles
7 Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons
8 Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts
9 Tom Brady New England Patriots
10 Jay Cutler Chicago Bears


Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

Uncredited/Associated Press

Last season Philip Rivers was surely a key cog in many a championship win for owners who were brave enough to take the dive on a player who entered the season after an abysmal year and three straight seasons with 13 interceptions or more.

Now, Rivers is the Comeback Player of the Year after a season in which he scored the sixth-most fantasy points at his position after scoring in double figures every week except one.

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Yet, here we are a month from the season and Rivers has an average draft position of 9.12, meaning he is the 14th quarterback off the board. Jay Cutler (health issues), Colin Kaepernick (run-first team) and Nick Foles (unreliable until he has a bigger body of work) all rank ahead of him.

For what reason? Rivers gets Keenan Allen back after a jaw-dropping rookie campaign, he has Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal to work with and has a pair of ultra-talented tight ends in Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. Heck, he even has scat-back Danny Woodhead to spam the ball to on any down.

Rivers is in for another big year, and this time it does not even require a leap of faith. Pull the trigger.

Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

For the first time since 2010, Carson Palmer played in a full-16 game season last year. The end result was his acting as a top-20 scorer at quarterback and a hint of better things to come despite his being 34 years old.

Palmer is sitting around with an ADP of 13.08 as the 21st quarterback taken, which is ridiculous when one ponders the situation around him.

For one, Palmer is heading into his second season in coach Bruce Arians' vertical-oriented attack. He says things have come even easier this preseason, according to Kent Somers of

We've got a ton of work to do, but it just feels so good to be confident and be comfortable and know the guys around you know that you know what you're doing. There's not a shadow of a doubt on certain plays where there was in the past, like there are in new systems and new offenses. Just a great start and a long way to go.

Now keep in mind he gets to throw to Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd (1,041 yards and five scores in his second season last year) and superb deep threats Ted Ginn and John Brown, not to mention Andre Ellington out of the backfield. 

Palmer circa 2005 might just make a reappearance.

Top RBs

Rank Player Team
1 LeSean McCoy Philadelphia Eagles
2 Jamaal Charles Kansas City Chiefs
3 Adrian Peterson Minnesota Vikings
4 Matt Forte Chicago Bears
5 DeMarco Murray Dallas Cowboys
6 Eddie Lacy Green Bay Packers
7 Arian Foster Houston Texans
8 Doug Martin Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9 Andre Ellington Arizona Cardinals
10 Marshawn Lynch Seattle Seahawks


Rashad Jennings, New York Giants

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

An ADP of 4.12 and a slot in the top 25 is quickly not becoming high enough for one Rashad Jennings as he enters his first season with the New York Giants.

Jennings has quietly had a great career to date in backup capacities with Jacksonville and Oakland, as the numbers show:

Year Team G Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD
2009 JAC 15 39 202 13.5 5.2 1
2010 JAC 13 84 459 35.3 5.5 4
2012 JAC 10 101 283 28.3 2.8 2
2013 OAK 15 163 733 48.9 4.5 6

The Liberty product figured to be a rotational piece this year, but an injury that has reportedly ended David Wilson's career means an even bigger opportunity for usage has emerged in the backfield.

Now, Jennings only has to fend off a shell-of-his-former-self Peyton Hillis and a rookie in Andre Williams. The latter is very talented and will get goal-line work, but Jennings is suddenly a starter and has proved time and again he can be effective with usage.

He is going to rise fast, so grab him while he is hot.

James White, New England Patriots

Uncredited/Associated Press

A man with no ADP to speak of is a gamble, no?

Perhaps not, as James White—the No. 130 overall pick by the New England Patriots—is having one heck of a camp that might just translate to plenty of playing time with one Tom Brady.

Thanks to his draft status and the notion that he would be a backup behind Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, White has been mostly ignored.

That needs to change, as lofty praise from coach Bill Belichick, via's Mike Reiss, speaks volumes about his future:

It's been good working with James White. He's a very interesting and versatile player. He does a good job in the passing game and in the running game -- both inside and outside. Blitz pickup -- we have a pretty extensive offense for him to learn, but he's working hard at it. We'll just let him go and see how it goes, but I think he has the ability to compete on all three downs, in both the running game and the passing game.

Chalk up Brady himself as someone who has been impressed, per SiriusXM NFL Radio:

White is very much worth a flier at this stage of the game. It is apparent the team has plans for him right out of the gate. Should a back in front of him go down, a starter's role in an offense that sees plenty of carries and passes go to backs will be in the cards for the rookie.

Top WRs

Rank Player Team
1 Calvin Johnson Detroit Lions
2 Brandon Marshall Chicago Bears
3 Julio Jones Atlanta Falcons
4 Dez Bryant Dallas Cowboys
5 Demaryius Thomas Denver Broncos
6 A.J. Green Cincinnati Bengals
7 Antonio BrownPittsburgh Steelers
8 Jordy Nelson Green Bay Packers
9 Keenan Allen San Diego Chargers
10 Victor Cruz New York Giants


Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Owners are right to not trust Markus Wheaton after he caught just six passes last year as a rookie on 13 targets.

But like any great sleeper, it takes a leap of faith once an understanding of the factors around a player are understood.

Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are gone. Not only does this move Wheaton up to a premium spot on the depth chart over players such as Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, it means there are 113 receptions and 188 targets just begging to be gobbled up by a talented wideout.

Despite a developing favorable situation and the obvious talent Wheaton possesses, he has an ADP of 13.04 and rests outside of the top 50 wide receivers. That will change in a hurry once he starts to put on a show this preseason, so scoop him up now.

DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

It can be funny to watch just how much of an impact losing can destroy the ADP of a star player.

Sure, the Houston Texans lost 14 games in a row last year, but that is no excuse to up and forget about DeAndre Hopkins.

As a rookie, Hopkins caught 52 passes for 802 yards and two scores on that miserable team. Funnily enough, the Clemson product was used in a downright horrible manner, something that will change with a new staff in place.

Fans may balk at the idea of Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but even he got back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and six or more scores out of Stevie Johnson in Buffalo.

Hopkins is not only a better player than Johnson, defenses' attention spans will go to Andre Johnson and Arian Foster out of the backfield, not to mention the staff headed by Bill O'Brien is offensive oriented. That 10.04 ADP outside of the top 40 is a mirage.

Top TEs

Rank Player Team
1 Jimmy Graham New Orleans Saints
2 Rob Gronkowski New England Patriots
3 Jordan Cameron Cleveland Browns
4 Julius Thomas Denver Broncos
5 Greg Olsen Carolina Panthers
6 Jason Witten Dallas Cowboys
7 Kyle Rudolph Minnesota Vikings
8 Vernon Davis San Francisco 49ers
9 Jordan Reed Washington
10 Ladarius Green San Diego Chargers


Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

If it takes beating owners over the head with a concrete slab to get the point across then so be it.

Green might just be the breakout star next year at any position.

At 6'6" and 240 pounds, Green—who ran a ridiculous 4.5-second 40-yard-dash—is set to emerge from the shadow of Antonio Gates after two years as his understudy. Rivers himself has raved about Green this preseason, per Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego:

The sky is still the limit for him. I think he's still figuring out how good he can be, … and he wants to be really good. That's the first thing. You have to have desire and ability. He has both. He is going to continue to improve. He's a guy like many we've had around here. He's, 'Just tell me what to do. I want to do it exactly how you want (me) to do it.' That's why he'll continue to develop.

As it stands, not many have bought the hype just yet, as one can glean from Green's 11.07 ADP, placing him outside of the top 10. He is ahead of Gates, so that's a start, but the savvy owners will grab him even earlier.

Top K

Rank Player Team
1 Matt Prater Denver Broncos
2 Stephen Gostkowski New England Patriots
3 Mason Crosby Green Bay Packers
4 Nick Novak San Diego Chargers
5 Dan Bailey Dallas Cowboys
6 Justin TuckerBaltimore Ravens
7 Phil Dawson San Francisco 49ers
8 Steven Hauschka Seattle Seahawks
9 Robbie Gould Chicago Bears
10 Shayne Graham New Orleans Saints


Greg Zuerlein, St. Louis Rams

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Greg The Leg had a horrific season last year and as a result has seen his ADP dip to 15.03.

But things are on the mend in St. Louis. Sam Bradford is on his way back from an injury, Tre Mason is an explosive complement to Zac Stacy, the defense is better than ever thanks to the addition of Aaron Donald and maybe, just maybe, the coaching staff has figured out how to use Tavon Austin properly.

There is also this statistical breakdown courtesy of Zuerlein's profile page at ESPN:

Zuerlein's opportunities from 50-plus dipped from 13 to two last season, and his 28 total tries ranked 21st among kickers. But by almost all metrics, Zuerlein got better as a kicker in 2013, with his overall conversion rate rising from 74 percent to 93 percent.

Zuerlein is an outstanding option for those who want to wait until the last possible second to grab a kicker. Unless another member of the league read this too.

Top D/ST

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


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Look, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a disappointment last year. But to ignore the arrival of stars and coach Lovie Smith, who directed plenty of turnover-happy units in the Windy City, is downright foolish.

Look at the defensive line. Gerald McCoy is the best 4-3 rushing tackle not named Geno Atkins. Michael Johnson just came to town after ranking as the No. 4 overall 4-3 end last year, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Look at the linebackers. Lavonte David ranked as the second-best 4-3 outside linebacker at PFF.

Or how about the secondary? Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron are arguably the best safety tandem in the league. Corner Johnthan Banks will only improve. New arrival Alterraun Verner ranked as the No. 13 overall corner last year at PFF.

There is no reason to believe that these pieces under the watchful eye of Smith will play anything like the 14th defense drafted.

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

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