As the 2014 NFL regular season kicks off Thursday night with the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, so does another year of fantasy football.
This season, more fantasy owners are drafting wide receivers much earlier, in large part because of how the game is changing. It seems as though every team in the league is passing more, and I’m expecting that to continue in 2014.
Last year, only Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers ran the ball more than they passed. What does that mean in terms of fantasy? Expect even bigger numbers from receivers as teams alienate the running game.
Most of the highest-drafted receivers this season are the same as last. Each of these guys is arguably his team’s best player and is relied upon to consistently make big plays.
Let’s examine who the highest-drafted receivers are and what their projections will look like in 2014.
2014 Projection: 96 receptions, 1,630 yards, 14 TD
If Calvin Johnson isn’t the first receiver taken in your fantasy draft, then someone is doing it wrong. He’s been the best player at the position for several years now and will continue to be this season.
Johnson is a physical monster at 6’5”, 236 pounds. He’s impossible to cover one-on-one, and even double-teams tend not to work so well. I like to think the best defense against the receiver is to disrupt his quarterback, Matthew Stafford.
The Detroit Lions come into the new year with even more weapons around their star. Rookie tight end Eric Ebron and receiver Golden Tate are new additions who will help spread out defenses for Megatron. Look for him to put up ridiculous numbers once again.
2014 Projection: 94 receptions, 1,425 yards, 13 TD
After Johnson, the debate for the next top receiver becomes a little more interesting. There are several viable candidates this year, but the edge at No. 2 has to go to the Denver Broncos' Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas had an incredible season in 2013, and that should only continue this year, as Peyton Manning is still throwing him the football.
Despite all the weapons the Broncos have, Thomas is, without a doubt, the most consistent and the biggest playmaker on the field. Wes Welker's suspension doesn’t change much, but it will enhance Thomas’ stats for the first part of the season.
Julius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will also be key components on the Broncos. They will be looking to have career years as well, despite Denver looking to hand the ball off more. With that said, Demaryius will do great things in 2014, even though the wealth will be shared in Denver.
2014 Projection: 98 receptions, 1,420 yards, 12 TD
Next up on the list is another young star who’s establishing himself as one of the best players in the league. The Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant is a phenomenal talent who has gotten better over his first four seasons.
Like Denver and Detroit, Dallas has a significant number of playmakers on offense. Second-year receiver Terrance Williams and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten will hopefully relieve the amount of double-teams Bryant faces.
One thing that will certainly help Bryant is the quality of the Dallas defense. The team should surrender plenty of points all year, allowing the offense to be in attack mode all game. If Tony Romo can stay healthy for 16 games, Bryant will put up very good statistics once more.
2014 Projection: 96 receptions, 1,215 yards, 11 TD
The Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green finds himself among the league's top wideouts again in 2014. He’s been extremely reliable over the last two regular seasons, catching no fewer than 97 passes.
This trend should continue in 2014, as Green will remain the top target in Cincinnati’s offense.
Although Green’s ceiling could be higher than a No. 4 ranking, I think this position is fair based on his situation. Coach Hue Jackson’s run-first scheme will utilize second-year Gio Bernard early and often. Either way, Green should continue to get better, even if his numbers don’t necessarily reflect that.
2014 Projection: 90 receptions, 1,225 yards, 10 TD
The last receiver who’s being drafted among the league's best is the Chicago Bears’ Brandon Marshall. Marshall has been enormous in the NFL, totaling more than 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last seven seasons.
This year should be more of the same from the receiver, as he is one of the main targets on an offensive unit that should score often.
One thing that concerns me with Marshall is the emergence of third-year wideout Alshon Jeffery. The lanky receiver broke out last year with more than 1,400 yards. There’s little doubt that Marshall will be great; however, Jeffery could interfere with his fantasy projections.