Fantasy Football 2014: Top Players, Unknown Sleepers and PPR Rankings

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2014

Jul 25, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte goes through a drill during training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

I'll be honest with you, folks—I've never understood the appeal of points-per-reception leagues. It's really a logical issue I have with the format above anything else. 

The thing is, there is no inherent value in simply catching the ball, much like there is no inherent value in a running back receiving a handoff or a quarterback throwing the ball. The true value in those moments comes from the amount of yards accrued on the play or, if you're lucky, the touchdown scored.

After all, if a quarterback throws a pass to the receiver, who then tries to evade a series of defenders and ends up losing two yards, that is by its nature a negative play. But in PPR leagues, it's worth 0.8 points for the wide receiver. The whole thing vexes me.

That being said, the world doesn't revolve around me or my somewhat neurotic philosophy on fantasy football scoring. The PPR format remains one of the most popular options in fantasy, and despite my prejudices against it, I feel inclined to acknowledge those folks who swear by the system.

So below is my olive branch. I'll provide my top 25 players in PPR leagues this year, take a look at some sleepers in all formats and make my peace offering with a point for any player who manages to catch the ball. Life is all about growth and evolving, after all. 


PPR Rankings

PPR Mock Draft for Top 25 Players
1Jamaal CharlesRB
2Matt ForteRB
3LeSean McCoyRB
4Adrian PetersonRB
5Eddie LacyRB
6Jimmy GrahamTE
7Calvin JohnsonWR
8Peyton ManningQB
9Marshawn LynchRB
10Drew BreesQB
11Aaron RodgersQB
12Brandon MarshallWR
13A.J. GreenWR
14Demaryius ThomasWR
15Arian FosterRB
16Doug MartinRB
17Dez BryantWR
18DeMarco MurrayRB
19Zac StacyRB
20Julio JonesWR
21Cam NewtonQB
22Matt StaffordQB
23Montee BallRB
24Jordy NelsonWR
25Le'Veon BellRB


Top 25 Analysis

Aug 7, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws a pass to running back Jamaal Charles (25) against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Given that Jamaal Charles had 70 receptions a year ago and Forte had 74, it's not hard to project them as the top two players off the board in PPR leagues. No, I don't think Charles will score 19 touchdowns this season, and I do worry about Forte staying healthy, but these two have the most upside at a potentially thin position. 

In standard leagues, McCoy is my top overall player, but the fact that Darren Sproles is now in Philadelphia should mean McCoy will see a drop in the 52 catches and 539 receiving yards he had a year ago. Not enough to make him anything less than a top-three pick, of course, but enough that in PPR formats I'd rather have Charles or Forte.

As for Adrian Peterson, it's possible he'll rush for 2,000 yards and score something like 20 touchdowns, proving his No. 4 ranking on my list to be folly. But the truth is his career high in receptions is 43, and last year he caught just 29 passes.

In a running back group that is really pretty even at the top of the rankings, that factor was enough to drop Peterson to No. 4 overall. 

As for Eddie Lacy, I think we'll see him utilized even more in the passing game this year. He's a true three-down back (a rarity in the league these days) and he could be even more dangerous this year catching passes out of the backfield.

Kevin Patra of has more on that front:

One big positive in Lacy's acclimation to the passing game will be an increased rapport with Rodgers, as the duo didn't see the field together for most of last season.

'We've never literally like sat down and talked about it, but I'm pretty sure we can both figure it out,' Lacy said of he and Rodgers. 'You put two and two together, and you have the opportunity to be pretty dangerous back there.'

Through the start of training camp Lacy has seen increased action out of the backfield on screens, checkdowns and flat routes. We except him to increase well beyond his 35 catch number from last year.

Yes, you'll notice certain running backs get dropped a bit in my rankings. Marshawn Lynch takes a slight hit, for starters. With three years running of 300-plus touches and the fact that he isn't a terribly dangerous player in the passing game, his production in that area should take a hit this year as the Seahawks look to keep him fresh.

It doesn't hurt that they have excellent depth at the position. 

Players like Zac Stacy and Alfred Morris, who are two-down grinders, also are devalued somewhat in this format (with Morris dropping out of my top 25 altogether). Meanwhile, a player like Montee Ball rises up the rankings, especially if he can replicate Knowshon Moreno's performance in the Denver Broncos' passing game from a year ago.

Depending on how much you believe in Ball, he could be as much as a high second-round pick. I tend to worry about his pass-blocking and the fact that Moreno beat him out for the job last year, but there's no doubting his potential upside in Denver's offense. 

Chris Schneider/Associated Press

As for the other positions, it's generally business as usual, save for a few tweaks, namely that Brandon Marshall is my No. 2 receiver in the PPR format simply because he is a receptions machine. But honestly, the difference in production between Calvin Johnson, Marshall, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant (and possibly Julio Jones, too, if he stays on the field) is small.

Getting one of those six to fill your WR1 slot is ideal.

The quarterback position in PPR is actually slightly devalued since the other positions ultimately account for more points than in the standard format. Still, there is a clear top three at the position (Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers) and a clear second tier as well (Cam Newton and Matt Stafford).

If you don't get one of these five players, wait until the latter rounds—the difference in value between players really lessens after the elite options are off the board. 

And yes, Jimmy Graham is still crazy valuable in PPR, maybe even more valuable. I would draft him after the first five running backs are off the board, personally, but if you are a bit more conservative, at the very least you should be giddy to add him in the second round if he's available.


Deep Sleepers

Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders 

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Like the subhead says, these are deep sleepers.

Latavius Murray is currently third on this team's depth chart behind Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, but how confident are you that both of those players will stay healthy all season long? I just have this funny feeling Murray will get his chance in the spotlight at some point this year.

Murray missed his entire rookie season due to injury, but he's healthy this year and has looked good in both camp and the team's opening preseason camp. If you aren't familiar with his background, The Associated Press via Fox News can catch you up:

[The Raiders] also expect Murray to be a big contributor as a runner, receiver and possibly even a kick returner this season as well.

Murray is a physical back at 225 pounds but also has breakaway speed, as evidenced by his 4.38 40-yard dash time. He was a big-play back in college at Central Florida, rushing for 37 touchdowns in his career and scoring six more as a receiver and one on a kickoff return.

He ran for 1,106 yards and scored 19 touchdowns as a senior, earning first-team Conference USA honors and becoming a sixth-round pick by the Raiders.

Enticed yet?

No, Murray may not see the field often this year. But if McFadden and MJD catch the injury bug, Murray could be the waiver-wire MVP this season. Keep a close eye on Oakland's young back.


John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 09:  Wide receiver John Brown #12 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the football after a reception against the Houston Texans during the preseason NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Here's how much potential John Brown has, courtesy of Pete Prisco of CBS Sports:

Holy moly.

Yes, it's doubtful Brown will put up such amazing numbers this year that he's guaranteed himself a spot in Canton. Heck, he may not even be high enough on the pecking order this year to make a major fantasy splash behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. 

But it does seem probable that he'll beat out Ted Ginn Jr. for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. It does seem likely he'll be an impactful member of this offense (heck, he's already done that). And it does seem possible that either Fitzgerald or Floyd could get hurt and Brown could end up being a waiver-wire addition that could seriously bolster your team.

It's all still up in the air, hence his deep sleeper status. But there has been nothing but praise coming out of the Cardinals camp for Brown, and he could end up being the rookie receiver that really benefits fantasy owners who have been wise enough to monitor him throughout the year.


Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Aug 8, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (13) warms up before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Given how well Kelvin Benjamin has performed in training camp thus far, his status as a deep sleeper might not last much longer.

David Newton of ESPN thinks Benjamin has been the star of the Carolina Panthers training camp:

Benjamin opened camp with a spectacular leaping catch, stole the show in the preseason opener against Buffalo with an awkward-but-acrobatic diving 29-yard touchdown catch and ended camp with a leaping touchdown catch over the middle with two defenders draped on him. 

Outside of who would start at left tackle, which appears settled with Byron Bell, who would replace the franchise's all-time leading receiver, Steve Smith, was the biggest question entering camp. 

It's not a question leaving camp. Benjamin made Smith, not here for the first time since 2001, an afterthought. 

Given his size, leaping ability and the likelihood that he'll be starting from Week 1, Benjamin could end up being a touchdown machine this year. Where Murray and Brown are deep sleepers because they could end up having an impact somewhere down the line, Benjamin is a deep sleeper because he could develop into a legitimate fantasy starer early on despite having an average draft position of 132.2 in ESPN leagues, making him a 14th-round pick in 10-man leagues.

Take a flier on this guy later in the draft. He may be a rookie, but he could also end up catching double-digit touchdowns.


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