Fantasy Football 2014: Breaking Down Draft Strategy for Top Players

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2014

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) hands off to running back LeSean McCoy as Eagles warm up for an NFL preseason football game against the Chicago Bears on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Your draft really is dictated hugely by what you do early on.

Nab a quarterback first and you are left scrambling to find value at running back or wide receiver. Go the running back route and you are left deciding whether to wait on quarterback for a while or go after one earlier than that. Grab a tight end or wide receiver right away and you're hoping you don't find yourself at the end of a few runs on running back. 

But each player in the top-12 brings questions to the table, and here, we'll attempt to answer the major one for every player I have listed atop my rankings. No player is completely safe. What might be keeping you from taking one of these players where I have them slotted, and is your concern justified or just a bit of fantasy paranoia?


1. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

The Big Question: Why is McCoy your top overall player?

The Big Answer: He's in the perfect offensive system for his skill set. He led the NFL in rushing yards a year ago and the Eagles love running the ball, meaning his value is sustainable (as opposed to guys who score a lot of touchdowns, a less predictable output from year to year). He's younger than Adrian Peterson, will carry the ball more than Jamaal Charles and is more featured on the Eagles than Matt Forte is on the Chicago Bears.

Yes, Darren Sproles will cut into his receptions, but who cares? McCoy is a solid bet to lead the NFL in rushing yards again and eclipse the 10 touchdown mark. There's really no downside here. Take him No. 1 overall.


2.  Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings 

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

The Big Question: Why isn't Peterson your top guy?

The Big Answer: It's partly the age thing, as mentioned above, and partly because McCoy is in a more dynamic offense. Even when teams stack the line against the Eagles, they have so many different reads to deal with in the team's read-option attack that they very rarely can key on McCoy.

I don't think Peterson will break down or lose a step this year, but you have to also worry about a player who missed four games in 2011 and two games last year. His ceiling is higher than McCoy's, but his floor is also lower.


3. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 15:  Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum on December 15, 2013 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Big Question: There's no way he'll score 19 touchdowns again, right?

The Big Answer: It's highly unlikely. Before last season, the most scores he ever managed in a season was eight. So yes, the 19 touchdowns seems like an outlier.

And it's also a bit concerning that he was only handed the ball 258 times last season.

But remember, the Chiefs have a serious lack of offensive weapons outside of Charles, and he's also one of the NFL's best players in space. Andy Reid has always been known to throw a lot of screen passes, and Charles proved he's an excellent receiver out of the backfield last year—catching 70 passes. So he'll still be incredibly valuable for fantasy owners.


4. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears plays Green Bay Packers on December 29, 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
David Banks/Getty Images

The Big Question: Is there anything at all to worry about with Forte?

The Big Answer: No, he's pretty darn safe. He's a three-down back who is dynamic both running and catching the ball. He's in an explosive offense, and teams have to respect the passing game, so he often finds big ol' running lanes. He's missed one game in the last two years. After scoring just 10 touchdowns in 2011 and 2012 total, he tallied 12 last year.

Go ahead, try to find a weakness. Forte is about as safe a pick as they come, even if he doesn't have quite the upside of the first three guys on this list.


5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 22:  Eddie Lacy #27 of the Green Bay Packers runs during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field on August 22, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Big Question: Does a healthy Aaron Rodgers help or hinder Lacy?

The Big Answer: Both. That sounds like a cop-out, but bear with me.

It hinders Lacy in that the Packers are going to throw the ball around a lot and Lacy might not replicate his 284 carries from a year ago. But it helps him in that teams will push fewer men in the box, having to deal with Rodgers and the passing game, meaning Lacy should have more productive carries.

Plus, he's pretty solid catching the ball himself, so his receptions and receiving yards should go up. All in all, I think Lacy will have even more value than he did a year ago, and he's absolutely worth that top-five pick.


6. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 15:  Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates a touchdown during a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 15, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Big Question: A tight end? At No. 6 overall?

The Big Answer: Absolutely. And here's why.

In 12-team leagues a year ago, Graham averaged 8.1 more points per week than the best bench player at his position, Coby Fleener (here, "bench player" is defined as the 13th-best tight end in fantasy, since that player ideally wouldn't be started in fantasy leagues). Exactly four players bested that mark in 2013: Charles (11.7), Peyton Manning (10.3), McCoy (9.7) and Forte (9.0). 

In other words, despite tight end often being a devalued position, Graham is so valuable when compared to the other options at his position that by drafting him, you're giving yourself a huge advantage over your opponents at tight end. That makes him incredibly worthy of a top-six pick.


7. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

The Big Question: With so little depth for fantasy owners at running back, why take a receiver this high?

The Big Answer: Because Calvin Johnson is one of the safest players in all of fantasy, and it's always better to take the safer player in the early rounds than a riskier player, that's why.

Look, if you want to go with Marshawn Lynch here, go for it. Just know that he's rushed the ball over 900 times in the past three years and it wouldn't be shocking to see him start to wear down. Just know that Arian Foster is a huge injury risk, or that Doug Martin wasn't particularly great before he got injured last year.

Megatron, on the other hand, has averaged 88 yards and 0.62 touchdowns per game over his career. Average that out to a 16-game season, and you're looking at 1,408 yards and nine touchdowns. So yeah, he's a pretty darn safe pick.


8. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

The Big Question: Surely his numbers will take a dive, no?

The Big Answer: Well, yes. It's hard to imagine Manning will set an NFL record for passing yards and touchdowns for a second consecutive season.

But who cares? If Manning throws for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, are you really going to be disappointed? 

Sure, in standard leagues that would be 109 fewer points than a season ago, but even with that dip in performance he'd still be a top-two or top-three quarterback. What I'm trying to say is that Manning is a crazy safe player to select even if he regresses this year, because he'll likely regress to numbers that are still incredibly impressive.


9. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 22:  Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes for a touchdown against linebacker Shea McClellin #50 of the Chicago Bears at CenturyLink Field on August 22, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/G
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Big Question: Why is Lynch falling down draft boards?

The Big Answer: It's all those carries over the years. People are projecting he might see a dip in production this year after accruing a lot of wear and tear over the years, and it's a smart precaution.

Still, he remains the Seahawks workhorse back, and he hasn't given us a reason on the field to doubt him yet. Frankly, if you pick him within the first six selections, I wouldn't give you a hard time for doing so. I don't think he has quite the upside of Graham, Megatron or Manning, but he's also been a reliable player at a position with lot of question marks.


10. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

11. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Morry Gash/Associated Press

The Big Question: Shouldn't I be drafting a running back at these slots?

The Big Answer: You certainly can, but again, you're taking big risks on Foster's health, Martin having a bounce-back year, Zac Stacy not being a fluke or Montee Ball replicating Knowshon Moreno's numbers from last year. On the other hand, if you take either Brees or Rodgers, you know for certain that you are getting a safe, steady contributor who you'll never regret drafting.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times—you can't win a fantasy league in the early rounds, but you can lose it. If you have any doubts about the players on the board and these guys are sitting there, go with the safe route. Even in a year with crazy depth at quarterback, Brees and Rodgers are capable of putting up the type of numbers that are totally worthy of the first round.


12. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 02: Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos reacts as he walks off the field after their 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in East Rutherford,
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Big Question: Why not Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Julio Jones or Brandon Marshall instead?

The Big Answer: In a nutshell? Because I like the offense Thomas is in more than the offenses of these other players, and I trust Manning more than I trust Tony Romo, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler

I also think that Eric Decker's absence will mean even more red-zone looks for Thomas (and the other Thomas, Julius Thomas), meaning he could actually eclipse the 14 scores he had a year ago. Wouldn't that be something?

Thomas has progressively improved in each season, and he's now in his prime with the league's smartest quarterback and an offense that gives opposing defenses nightmares. You can't find a downside with this guy, and he's fresh off of a gigantic year. That gives him the slightest of edges over the rest of the pack (excluding Megatron, of course).


Hit me up on Twitter—I'll answer your fantasy questions and make some corny jokes, too. It's more fun than than going to a Pink Floyd laser-light show with Josh Gordon.

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