We're going to go a bit negative on this article, folks. No, I'm not going to start complaining about how hard my life is (it isn't) or why the world is falling apart (it isn't) or start bemoaning "the kids these days" (they aren't any different from past generations; they just have better technology).
No, I'm going to go negative on some players you might be really tempted to target as your sleepers this year. I'm going to go a bit negative on some bold strategies or players who could make you look like a genius but could also make you look like a fool.
It won't be all negative, of course. There will be my rankings of the top 150 players, for starters. There are a few players below who I think could really blow up and a few draft strategies I think are worth the risk. But in general, well, you can just imagine me shaking my fist as I write this.
Well, you can imagine me shaking my fist after I wrote it. I'm still working on typing while I shake my fist at the darn kids these days.
Mock Draft Rankings
|1||LeSean McCoy||Philadelphia Eagles||RB|
|2||Adrian Peterson||Minnesota Vikings||RB|
|3||Jamaal Charles||Kansas City Chiefs||RB|
|4||Matt Forte||Chicago Bears||RB|
|5||Eddie Lacy||Green Bay Packers||RB|
|6||Jimmy Graham||New Orleans Saints||TE|
|7||Calvin Johnson||Detroit Lions||WR|
|8||Peyton Manning||Denver Broncos||QB|
|9||Marshawn Lynch||Seattle Seahawks||RB|
|10||Drew Brees||New Orleans Saints||QB|
|11||Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay Packers||QB|
|12||Demaryius Thomas||Denver Broncos||WR|
|13||Doug Martin||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||WR|
|14||A.J. Green||Cincinnati Bengals||WR|
|15||Arian Foster||Houston Texans||RB|
|16||Zac Stacy||St. Louis Rams||RB|
|17||Dez Bryant||Dallas Cowboys||WR|
|18||Brandon Marshall||Chicago Bears||WR|
|19||DeMarco Murray||Dallas Cowboys||RB|
|21||Julio Jones||Atlanta Falcons||WR|
|22||Matt Stafford||Detroit Lions||QB|
|23||Cam Newton||Carolina Panthers||QB|
|24||Le'Veon Bell||Pittsburgh Steelers||RB|
|25||Jordy Nelson||Green Bay Packers||WR|
|26||Montee Ball||Denver Broncos||RB|
|27||Randall Cobb||Green Bay Packers||WR|
|28||Antonio Brown||Pittsburgh Steelers||WR|
|29||Julius Thomas||Denver Broncos||TE|
|30||Alshon Jeffery||Chicago Bears||WR|
|31||Andre Ellington||Arizona Cardinals||RB|
|32||Rob Gronkowski||New England Patriots||TE|
|33||Andre Johnson||Houston Texans||WR|
|34||Vincent Jackson||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||WR|
|35||Giovani Bernard||Cincinnati Bengals||RB|
|36||Victor Cruz||New York Giants||WR|
|37||Reggie Bush||Detroit Lions||RB|
|38||Andrew Luck||Indianapolis Colts||QB|
|39||Toby Gerhart||Jacksonville Jaguars||RB|
|40||Keenan Allen||San Diego Chargers||WR|
|41||Ryan Mathews||San Diego Chargers||RB|
|42||Vernon Davis||San Francisco 49ers||TE|
|43||Wes Welker||Denver Broncos||WR|
|44||C.J. Spiller||Buffalo Bills||RB|
|45||Frank Gore||San Francisco 49ers||RB|
|46||Larry Fitzgerald||Arizona Cardinals||WR|
|47||Ray Rice||Baltimore Ravens||RB|
|48||Rashad Jennings||New York Giants||RB|
|51||Ben Tate||Houston Texans||RB|
|52||Torrey Smith||Baltimore Ravens||WR|
|53||Trent Richardson||Indianapolis Colts||RB|
|54||Jeremy Maclin||Philadelphia Eagles||WR|
|55||Michael Floyd||Arizona Cardinals||WR|
|56||Robert Griffin III||Washington||QB|
|57||Nick Foles||Philadelphia Eagles||QB|
|58||Bishop Sankey||Tennessee Titans||RB|
|59||Roddy White||Atlanta Falcons||WR|
|60||Michael Crabtree||San Francisco 49ers||WR|
|61||T.Y. Hilton||Indianapolis Colts||WR|
|62||Jason Witten||Dallas Cowboys||TE|
|63||Kendall Wright||Tennessee Titans||WR|
|64||Frank Gore||San Francisco 49ers||RB|
|65||Percy Harvin||Seattle Seahawks||WR|
|66||Emmanuel Sanders||Denver Broncos||WR|
|67||Joique Bell||Detroit Lions||RB|
|68||Chris Johnson||New York Jets||RB|
|69||Cordarrelle Patterson||Minnesota Vikings||WR|
|70||Shane Vereen||New England Patriots||RB|
|71||Marques Colston||New Orleans Saints||WR|
|72||Eric Decker||New York Jets||WR|
|73||Terrance Williams||Dallas Cowboys||WR|
|74||Jordan Cameron||Cleveland Browns||TE|
|75||Matt Ryan||Atlanta Falcons||QB|
|76||Golden Tate||Detroit Lions||WR|
|77||Julian Edelman||New England Patriots||WR|
|78||Reggie Wayne||Indianapolis Colts||WR|
|79||Stevan Ridley||New England Patriots||RB|
|80||Sammy Watkins||Buffalo Bills||WR|
|81||Colin Kaepernick||San Francisco 49ers||QB|
|82||Chris Johnson||New York Jets||RB|
|83||Mike Wallace||Miami Dolphins||WR|
|84||Cecil Shorts||Jacksonville Jaguars||WR|
|85||Lamar Miller||Miami Dolphins||RB|
|86||Fred Jackson||Buffalo Bills||RB|
|87||Steven Jackson||Atlanta Falcons||RB|
|88||Anquan Boldin||San Francisco 49ers||WR|
|89||Pierre Thomas||New Orleans Saints||RB|
|90||DeAndre Hopkins||Houston Texans||WR|
|91||Darren McFadden||Oakland Raiders||RB|
|92||Maurice Jones-Drew||Oakland Raiders||RB|
|93||Darren Sproles||Philadelphia Eagles||RB|
|94||DeAngelo Williams||Carolina Panthers||RB|
|95||Knowshon Moreno||Miami Dolphins||RB|
|96||Riley Cooper||Philadelphia Eagles||WR|
|97||Russell Wilson||Seattle Seahawks||QB|
|98||Khiry Robinson||New Orleans Saints||RB|
|99||Chris Ivory||New York Jets||RB|
|100||Danny Woodhead||San Diego Chargers||RB|
|101||Mark Ingram||New Orleans Saints|
|102||Danny Amendola||New England Patriots||RB|
|104||Greg Olsen||Carolina Panthers||TE|
|106||Dennis Pitta||Baltimore Ravens||TE|
|107||Tom Brady||New England Patriots||QB|
|108||Tony Romo||Dallas Cowboys||QB|
|109||Philip Rivers||San Diego Chargers||QB|
|110||Jay Cutler||Chicago Bears||QB|
|111||LeGarrette Blount||Pittsburgh Steelers||RB|
|112||Hakeem Nicks||Indianapolis Colts||WR|
|113||Jeremy Hill||Cincinnati Bengals||RB|
|114||Rueben Randle||New York Giants||WR|
|115||Dwayne Bowe||Kansas City Chiefs||WR|
|116||Steve Smith||Baltimore Ravens||WR|
|117||Bernard Pierce||Baltimore Ravens||RB|
|118||Carlos Hyde||San Francisco 49ers||RB|
|119||Greg Jennings||Minnesota Vikings||WR|
|120||Shonn Greene||Tennessee Titans||RB|
|121||Mike Evans||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||WR|
|122||Tavon Austin||St. Louis Rams||WR|
|123||Terrance West||Cleveland Browns||RB|
|124||Justin Hunter||Tennessee Titans||WR|
|125||Devonta Freeman||Atlanta Falcons||RB|
|126||Kelvin Benjamin||Carolina Panthers||WR|
|127||Brandin Cooks||New Orleans Saints||WR|
|128||Carolina Panthers D/ST||-||-|
|129||San Francisco 49ers D/ST||-||-|
|130||Denver Broncos D/ST||--||-|
|131||Arizona Cardinals D/ST||-||-|
|132||Cincinnati Bengals D/ST||-||-|
|133||James Starks||Green Bay Packers||RB|
|134||Andy Dalton||Cincinnati Bengals||QB|
|135||Ben Roethlisberger||Pittsburgh Steelers||QB|
|136||St. Louis Rams D/ST||-||-|
|137||Knile Davis||Kansas City Chiefs||RB|
|138||Andre Williams||New York Giants||RB|
|139||Jarrett Boykin||Green Bay Packers||WR|
|140||Eli Manning||New York Giants||QB|
|141||Markus Wheaton||Pittsburgh Steelers||WR|
|142||Kyle Rudolph||Minnesota Vikings||TE|
|143||Kansas City Chiefs D/ST||-||-|
|144||New England Patriots D/ST||-||-|
|145||James Jones||Oakland Raiders||WR|
|146||Jordan Todman||Jacksonville Jaguars||RB|
|147||Martellus Bennett||Chicago Bears||TE|
|148||Charles Clay||Miami Dolphins||TE|
|149||Jonathan Grimes||Houston Texans||RB|
|150||Zach Ertz||Philadelphia Eagles||TE|
Sleepers to Avoid
I'm not one of those people who is going to recommend waiting for a tight end and then selecting Kyle Rudolph. I'm not buying him, sorry.
For starters, I don't trust a player whose fantasy value is solely tied to touchdowns. It's too risky. In 2012, he had nine touchdowns, sure, but he had just 493 receiving yards. That meant he only had fantasy value in weeks he scored.
Before his season ended to injury last year, he had three weeks with nine fantasy points or more, and all of them came in weeks he scored a touchdown. Put another way, 34 of his fantasy points came in the three weeks he scored, while in the other five weeks he put up a meager 11 points.
Sorry, but I'm not interested in riding that roller coaster—certainly not when I can nab Jordan Reed, Dennis Pitta or Greg Olsen a round or two earlier. Just look at Olsen—he had three weeks of seven or more fantasy points without scoring a touchdown and five weeks with at least five fantasy points without a score.
In total, nine times last year Olsen scored seven or more fantasy points. I'll take that consistency any day of the week over a one-trick pony like Rudolph.
I truly believe Sammy Watkins is going way too high in drafts (which I wrote about in more depth here). Rookie wide receivers are always risky, as the transition between the college and pro game offers quite the steep learning curve.
But the main reason I don't trust Watkins is that I don't trust his starting quarterback, EJ Manuel, or the Buffalo game plan.
Let's start with Manuel. Or more accurately, let's allow Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly to express his doubts about Manuel, per Mike Rodak of ESPN.com:
'To be honest, I'm not happy with any of them. I would love to see EJ come on,' Kelly said. 'He's a great guy. He's a great leader. I've heard him to speak to the team; I've heard him speak to the receivers before they take the field. His leadership is there. Everything is there.
'But I have not yet seen what we all want to see. And I'm sure he feels the same way. It just hasn't happened, and hopefully that's just because of the preseason.'
Kelly said the Bills' success this season will hinge on Manuel's performance.
'I'm pulling for him, and I'll continue to pull for him,' Kelly said. 'But that is a position without a doubt that is going to determine how the Buffalo Bills do this year. We have a good defense, great receivers, good running backs. It's up to EJ. He'll take us as far as he can, and I just hope he starts playing better.'
As per the Buffalo game plan, well, you need look no further than how the team utilizes exciting talent C.J. Spiller to get an idea of the "unique" approach the Bills might have for Watkins. Time and time again, Spiller is sent crashing into the tackle box, which doesn't play to his skill set. He should be utilized on the edge or put into space, and yet the Bills rarely craft a plan of attack around his skill set.
Will the same happen with Watkins? I fear it might.
Yes, I know he has awesome weapons to work with and the quarterback whisperer in coach Marc Trestman. But he's also an injury-prone player who struggles with turning the ball over. Could he blow up this year?
Would I risk making him my QB1 without taking a player like Romo or Rivers right behind him in my draft?
Absolutely not. Cutler simply hasn't proved in his career that he's worth trusting completely to be a consistent fantasy option.
Of course, not everyone agrees with me, like Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports:
He can have Cutler—I want someone a bit safer to be my QB1.
Targets for the Boldest of Owners
We can start this section by listing the veteran running backs who for a variety of reasons—they've lost a step, they're injury-prone, they are in a running-back-by-committee situation, etc.—are risky players who might produce and can be had for a decent value but might also flop.
These players include:
- Chris Johnson, New York Jets
- Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
- Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
- Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
Some people might lump Frank Gore into this group, but he's consistently produced enough over the years that I think you can still justify selecting him. Yes, he could fall off the cliff this year, but wouldn't you rather take the chance on that as opposed to risking that any of the above players will be worthy RB2s?
If I can avoid the above players, I'm going to, though if a guy like Jackson is your RB4, you're good.
Here's a player I think you need to be bold to select but one who could actually be a shock performer this season—Jake Locker.
Yes, I know he has a hard time staying healthy. Yes, I know accuracy isn't a word he's familiar with. Yes, I know the Tennessee offense doesn't exactly make the network executives stand up and shout in excitement for the rush of ratings when they broadcast a Titans game.
But...Locker appeared in seven games last year. In three of them, he had very strong performances for fantasy owners in standard-scoring leagues (18 or more fantasy points). One contest was decent (14 points). One contest was a "disappointing but better than nothing" showing (10 points). And two were absolute duds (five points or less).
Locker has a few things going for him. He has a big arm and enough athleticism to get out of the pocket and make plays. He has a reliable receiver (Kendall Wright), a young receiver with big-play potential (Justin Hunter) and a quick player who can make plays out of the backfield in the passing game (Dexter McCluster).
If he can stay healthy and avoid turning the ball over at an Eli Manning-like clip, he could have a breakout season for fantasy owners. You aren't drafting him to be your starter, obviously, and he's probably too risky as your QB2 if you wait until later in the draft to select your QB1.
But if you nab a pretty safe starter, you can roll the dice on Locker. Who knows—maybe he indeed breaks out and, shazam, you have yourself some nice trade bait for later in the season.
Yes, I just typed the word shazam.
I think you need to be pretty bold if you are going with the RB/RB strategy in the first two rounds this year, as many people are. That strategy means you are likely going to have to pick at least one player from a group with plenty of potential to either hit it big or bust:
- Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Arian Foster, Houston Texans
- Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
- Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
- Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
- Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Keep in mind that I omitted Alfred Morris from this list because I think he's pretty safe, but his upside is limited compared to the more appealing players above. So if you end the first two rounds with Eddie Lacy and Morris, for example, I think you're pretty safe with those picks.
On the other hand, if you end the first two rounds with Foster and Ball, I think you have two players with huge potential but also major downsides. Foster is one injury away from potentially retiring. Seriously. Ball has never consistently proved he can be a top fantasy back. But a healthy Foster is an RB1, and Denver's offense made Knowshon Moreno, of all people, a fantasy stud last year, so you can see the upside in Ball.
I think the RB/RB strategy this year is really bold because there are so many question marks at running back. If you nail your picks, it's a great approach. But you are taking a major risk by doing so.
Here are a few other things only the boldest among us should risk:
- Taking offensive players from the New Orleans Saints not named Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham or Marques Colston.
- Taking a running back from the New England Patriots or Carolina Panthers.
- Assuming Cutler will be a consistent QB1 this year.
- Drafting Josh Gordon before his suspension is announced. This could be the pick of the draft if his suspension is either short or he isn't suspended at all. It's a wasted pick if he's done for the year, however.
- Assuming Ben Tate can stay healthy. If he can, boy, he could have a big year. But when has he ever stayed healthy?
How bold are you feeling?
Have fantasy questions? Hit me up on Twitter—I'll answer them and make some corny jokes, too. It's more fun than having Shaun Hill as your starting quarterback.