You do not just win fantasy football leagues because you have a Hall of Fame quarterback named Manning, Brady or Brees and two workhorse running backs you can count on for 2,600 combined rushing yards.
You need a core of young up-and-comers who have potential and the ability to take their games (and their fantasy values) to the next level.
These are the guys you are holding on to in dynasty leagues thinking they are going to be your fantasy franchise’s cornerstones for the next several seasons. These are the guys in redraft leagues that you want to get your hands on because their stats are trending upward, not downward.
Here are four youngsters whose fantasy values will rise in 2015, making them targets in drafts and auctions and guys who should be protected in dynasty leagues and possibly keeper leagues as well.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles (WR)
Some scouts may have considered Matthews a step too slow to make a big impact in the NFL, but Matthews more than made up for his average-at-best speed with his precise route running and his trap-like hands.
In a 2014 season when it felt like every rookie receiver had the makings of becoming the next Jerry Rice, Matthews’ 67 receptions for 872 yards and eight touchdowns floated under the radar. This might mean he can be had for a cheaper price in auctions or be available later than he should be in drafts when August rolls around.
With top target Jeremy Maclin a free agent and No. 3 receiver Riley Cooper no guarantee to be brought back, Matthews could become the main man for Nick Foles (or Marcus Mariota, or Mark Sanchez, or Ron Jaworski) next season and become a receiver capable of 80 catches for 1,150 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders (RB)
Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden both proved this past season that Father Time had tackled all the life out of their legs, so the door is open for Murray to become the top tailback for the Raiders in 2015.
Murray did an awesome job during a short span in 2014, rushing for 370 yards and two touchdowns in his final five games while averaging over five yards per carry. It is a small sample size but such an exciting one that fantasy owners have to take notice.
Unless Oakland drafts a running back within the first three rounds or acquires another plodding veteran (don’t put it past Oakland to bring in Steven Jackson or Trent Richardson) as a guy to split the workload, Murray will top the depth chart at the position entering training camp.
Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys (WR)
Williams has shown many flashes of brilliance and flashes of fantasy value over his first two years as a pro. He has averaged 16.8 yards per catch, snagged 13 touchdown tosses and has had many highlight-worthy receptions during that time.
Having DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten as teammates has not helped Williams in the stat department, though. With Dallas addicted to handing the ball off to Murray so much, and with Bryant and Witten being targeted more often by quarterback Tony Romo, Williams was the odd man out as much as the fifth wheel on a date is.
The key is Dallas making Williams more of a focal point of the offense. Bryant had more than twice the targets that Williams had. Heck, Murray had the same amount of targets that Williams had! Williams is a game-breaker, but he cannot break the game without the ball.
Hopefully Dallas realizes that in Williams’ third season and makes more attempts to get the ball to him downfield. If that happens, especially if either Murray or Bryant leave via free agency, Williams could get into the 1,000-yard, nine-TD range in 2015.
Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts (WR)
Being one of Andrew Luck’s receivers is like hitting the lottery on a weekly basis. Just ask T.Y. Hilton, who has gone from a shrimpy slot receiver to one of the most dangerous pass-catchers in the NFL and one of the most valuable receivers in fantasy football.
Coby Fleener can also attest to how wonderful it is to be on the other end of Luck’s spectacular spirals. His 774 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this past season made him one of the best tight ends in fantasy football, and he never would have come close to those numbers without Luck being his quarterback.
With longtime standout Reggie Wayne most likely retiring or getting released and veteran Hakeem Nicks also probably being shown the door, Moncrief is poised to become a bigger facet of Indianapolis’ passing attack next season.
Moncrief’s size and speed can make him the Giancarlo Stanton of the Colts in 2015, a home run hitter who can smack the ball out of the park (or take the ball to the end zone in this case) at any time.
Moncrief and Luck connected on a couple home runs during the 2014 campaign but because of Moncrief’s inexperience and because there were so many other pass catchers to throw to, he did not rack up as many 50-yard plays as he could have.
Do not be discouraged by Moncrief’s paltry 2014 numbers (32 catches, 449 yards, three touchdowns). He will have many more opportunities to catch Luck’s javelin heaves and light up fantasy stat services in 2015 now that he has a year of experience under his helmet and he likely won’t have Wayne or Nicks limping in his way anymore.