With coaching staffs locked in and free agent landing spots largely settled, we can begin to develop rough 2015 fantasy football outlooks. The forthcoming draft will certainly shake things up and add talent to the player pool. But I thought now would be a good time to take something of a stand on the non-rookies. With a recap of 2014 and preliminary expectations for 2015, here are my thoughts on the Top 150.
1. Le’Veon Bell — Dropping 20-some pounds and adding big-play running chops to his already versatile repertoire, Bell emerged as the NFL’s premier running back as a second-year pro, spiking his YPC average by well over a yard and ranking second to only Matt Forte in tailback receptions. Le’Veon combined RB1 overall weekly upside with a great floor, totaling 100-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 15-of-16 games. The playoffs showed how valuable Bell has become to the Steelers. He missed the Wild Card Round with a hyperextended knee, and Pittsburgh’s offense sputtered in a 30-17 loss to the Ravens. Still only 23, Le’Veon remains in the process of getting better, a scary reality for the rest of the league. He may be suspended for the first two games of 2015, but Bell will continue to warrant serious No. 1 overall fantasy pick consideration based on position scarcity and his difference-making scoring ability.
2. Jamaal Charles — A series of foot, knee, and ankle ailments dealt a blow to Charles’ 2014 consistency, one year after he finished as fantasy’s top running back. Charles still scored 14 all-purpose touchdowns and ranked seventh among tailbacks in per-game fantasy scoring. One unforeseen blow to Charles’ value was the Chiefs’ reduction of his usage in the passing game, where Charles is a dynamic playmaker. Although he is undersized by NFL workhorse standards, Charles has played in 46-of-48 games the past three seasons and finished as a top-eight fantasy back in four of the past five years. Father Time will eventually catch up to him, but Charles will be 28 for most of the 2015 season and should have 1-2 elite seasons left. Charles drafters will be smart to secure Knile Davis as fantasy football’s premier handcuff.
3. Rob Gronkowski — Deemed “injury prone” by those consumed by recency bias, Gronk turned out to be one of the top value picks in 2014 fantasy drafts. He often lasted until the third round yet produced at a top-five overall clip, crushing the field at his position. Gronk outscored tight end runner-up Julius Thomas by more than two fantasy points per game, and higher-drafted Jimmy Graham by nearly 3.5. The NFL’s offensive version of J.J. Watt, Gronkowski is a truly unstoppable force. Including playoffs, Gronkowski topped 90 receiving yards and/or scored a touchdown in 15 of his 18 games played. With dominant run-after-catch skills, a power forward’s mentality in the red zone, and difference-making blocking ability, Gronkowski can already be considered the best tight end of all time. He turns 26 in May.
4. Marshawn Lynch — Lynch entered 2014 widely believed to be playing his final season in Seattle. Instead, he re-proved himself indispensable, scoring a career-high 17 touchdowns while spiking his per-touch efficiency stats across the board. Seattle’s passing game endured ups and downs throughout the year, but Lynch’s intense running kept the offense afloat. Watch his film: Lynch literally put the Seahawks on his back at several points in the season. Lynch turns 29 this April, but there have been zero signs of slowdown. Although Seattle’s addition of Jimmy Graham may cost Lynch a few TDs, it will also make the offense better.
5. Eddie Lacy — “T-Rich 2.0” comparisons were shouted loudly inside the fantasy community as Lacy trudged to a 3.04 YPC average and one touchdown in the season’s first month. Lacy exploded immediately thereafter, averaging 5.07 yards per carry with 12 TDs over the final dozen games. “Fat Eddie” became a dangerous receiving back, dusting and barreling through defenders on swings and screens. Although his carries fell off as the Packers placed more emphasis on their passing game, Lacy finished among the most efficient tailbacks in football on a per-touch basis. He’s played two NFL seasons and ranked top-six in fantasy running back scoring in each. It is worth noting that Lacy has two concussions on record and runs with an innate violence that may eventually lead to injuries. He’s a must-handcuff with James Starks.
6. DeMarco Murray — In an attempt to “protect” a talent-deficient defense and quarterback with recurring back problems, the 2014 Cowboys made a commitment to run-heavy football. The plan worked in both real life and fantasy, as Dallas went 12-4 and Murray led all running backs in fantasy points. There are red flags for 2015, however. Free agency sent Murray to Philadelphia, where he will lose volume to Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. The Eagles’ offensive line is good, but not quite as dominant as Dallas’. Including playoffs, Murray piled up an otherworldly 436 carries during 2014-2015, potentially putting him at breakdown risk. Murray’s effectiveness also waned as the season progressed, averaging 3.93 YPC over the final five games after averaging 5.07 in the initial 11. He appeared noticeably sluggish on film. Murray won’t be the value pick he was last year, but he’ll still be worth drafting in the middle of round one as the lead back in one of the NFL’s most rushing-friendly offenses.
7. Matt Forte — Forte lived up to his first-round draft status even in a year where things around him collapsed. Amid team-killing locker-room turmoil, Forte ranked fourth among running backs in fantasy scoring and broke Larry Centers’ NFL record for single-season running back receptions, which stood for nearly two decades. There were warning signs, though. Forte will turn 30 late in 2015 and his YPC average dropped sharply from the 2013 season. Gone is coach Marc Trestman, whose history of funneling catches to running backs spiked Forte’s PPR production. Forte averaged 88 receptions in two seasons with Trestman after averaging 53.4 in five years under Lovie Smith. New coach John Fox is a believer in balanced offense, which may lead to increased carries for Forte. But his catches are a lock to regress.
8. Demaryius Thomas — Another “slow starter,” Demaryius’ fantasy owners panicked when he opened the season with stat lines of 4-48, 5-62-1, and 4-31 in Weeks 1-3. Forward thinkers “bought low” on Demaryius during Denver’s Week 4 bye and he went berserk from that point on, establishing career highs in receptions and yards en route to a top-four finish among fantasy wideouts. Demaryius is a routine winner of 50:50 balls and one of the league’s premier run-after-catch receivers. Peyton Manning will return healthy after battling a debilitating quad injury down the 2014 stretch. Squarely in his prime, Thomas turned 27 in December. He’ll see an uptick in red-zone usage with Julius Thomas gone to Jacksonville.
9. Dez Bryant — The Cowboys’ newfound run-game commitment sliced nearly 25 targets off Dez’s previous-year total, but he compensated with efficiency and sheer touchdown scoring. His 16 receiving TDs led the NFL, and among wideouts only Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson scored more fantasy points. Bryant is the NFL’s best red-zone receiver, and he doesn’t turn 27 until next November. Dallas is unlikely to maintain its run-dominated offense without some 2015 regression, meaning Dez should see an increase in targets. He’s scored 12-plus TDs and topped 1,200 yards in three straight years. And I don’t think Bryant has hit his ceiling yet.
10. Antonio Brown — Brown posted a career year in 2013, or at least we thought. His game again reached new heights in 2014, leading the NFL in receptions and receiving yards while emerging as the least-coverable wideout in the AFC. Brown runs in the mid-4.5s, but has video-game quickness and catches everything. Despite ranking second among all wide receivers in 2014 targets (181), Brown tied for 44th in drops (5). Steelers OC Todd Haley feeds Brown the football relentlessly, even in the red zone despite his shortage of size. The last two years under Haley, Brown has ranked fourth and second in the NFL in targets. He is a usage machine with unrivaled consistency. Including playoffs, Brown will enter the 2015 season having caught at least five passes and gained 50 yards in 33 consecutive games.
11. Julio Jones — There were peaks and valleys to Julio’s fourth NFL season, most beyond his control. He battled oblique and hip injuries, and Atlanta’s porous line torpedoed the offense for an early-season period before coming together down the stretch. Similar to Dez Bryant, it’s likely we haven’t seen Julio play his best football yet. He’s still finished as a top-ten fantasy wideout in each of his last two mostly-healthy seasons, and just turned 26. From Andre Johnson to Pierre Garcon, new Falcons playcaller Kyle Shanahan has funneled the rock to his “X” receiver with extreme volume. 2015 could easily go down as Jones’ best season yet.
12. Calvin Johnson — Megatron’s 2014 got off to a rocky start. He battled an early-season ankle injury that rendered Johnson a decoy for multiple games and ineffective in others. He wound up missing three contests, but returned strong from Week 10 on. Megatron’s stats in the second half of the season would extrapolate to 98-1,458-12 over a full 16-game slate. Johnson’s tape does suggest he’s lost a step, but not enough to rob him of the ability to be a top-five WR1. He will turn 30 years old this September. The Lions’ offense should take a step forward in OC Joe Lombardi’s second year. Based on early MFL10 best-ball drafts I’ve done, Johnson could be a 2015 value pick. He regularly falls into the middle of the second round.
13. Jordy Nelson — Finishing second to only Antonio Brown in 2014 fantasy receiver points, Nelson exploded for career highs in catches and yards, topping 80 yards and/or hitting pay dirt in 12-of-16 regular season games. Big, physical, an elite route runner, and deceptively fast, “White Lightning” has been a top-12 fantasy receiver in each of his last three healthy seasons. Nelson reaches age 30 in May, so he is older than the top-shelf wideouts ranked ahead of him here. Jordy still projects as a strong WR1 and shoo-in top-15 fantasy pick.
14. Odell Beckham — Beckham went undrafted in most fantasy leagues after an offseason hamstring tear rendered him inactive until October. OBJ took off when Victor Cruz ruptured his patellar tendon in Week 6. Beckham scored a touchdown and/or topped 90 yards in each of New York’s final ten games, putting fantasy teams on his back and earning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. A cross between Antonio Brown and DeSean Jackson, Beckham combines absurd quickness with lid-lifting speed and otherworldly ball skills. Cruz’s return may cut into Beckham’s 2015 targets, but he should remain the focal point of the Giants’ passing offense. Beckham won’t turn 23 until November and is already in the first-round fantasy discussion.
15. A.J. Green — Green’s fourth NFL campaign was marred by toe and bicep injuries and a late-season concussion, as well as two games against the Browns where Joe Haden simply shut A.J. down (3-23, 5-49). Despite missing three weeks and enduring several others well short of 100%, Green notched his fourth straight 1,000-yard season and mixed in his fair share of dominant games. In 2015, it’s fair to wonder if the healthy returns of Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones will cut into Green’s targets. Of course, these concerns combined with the recency bias of disappointing 2014 could make Green a value pick in drafts. Green may be best viewed as a high-floor WR1, albeit one without the upside of the seven ranked ahead of him here.
16. LeSean McCoy — Known to be nursing a toe injury and affected adversely by an injury-riddled line, McCoy took a major 2014 step back after looking like the best running back in football in 2013. Coach Chip Kelly lost faith in McCoy as the season progressed, particularly in short-yardage situations. He lost goal-line duties to Chris Polk, and his passing-game usage was nearly cut in half following the addition of Darren Sproles. McCoy’s efficiency did pick up down the stretch, averaging 5.00 YPC over the final six games after managing a 3.76 mark in the initial ten. Fantasy owners using high 2015 draft picks on McCoy will be betting on a bounce-back year in Buffalo, where McCoy should benefit from a high-volume ground-and-pound approach under Rex Ryan and OC Greg Roman. Roman is one of the NFL’s premier run-game designers, although his propensity for not involving running backs in the passing game is a concern for McCoy’s PPR value. Still, Shady will be 27 years old during the forthcoming season, usually the peak age for running backs. He’s a better bet to rebound than most.
17. Alshon Jeffery — A lingering hamstring injury and Jay Cutler’s regression led to downticks in Jeffery’s receptions and yardage, but he scored double-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career and showed the ability to be an offense-carrying wide receiver when Brandon Marshall missed time. Still only 25 years old, Jeffery has perfected the use of his body to box out defenders and make difficult catches at all parts of the field. With Marshall traded to the Jets, Jeffery is a sneaky long-shot bet to finish as 2015’s top fantasy wideout. In the Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas roles, respectively, the Bears’ passing game will funnel through Jeffery and Martellus Bennett under former Broncos OC Adam Gase.
18. Arian Foster — Hip, groin, and hamstring ailments made Foster a mainstay on the weekly injury reports, but when healthy he remained one of the NFL’s premier runners. Excelling in the upstart Texans’ run-first offense, Foster’s YPC average was his best in a half-decade and he ranked second among running backs in per-game fantasy points, trailing only DeMarco Murray. Foster will turn 29 before the 2015 season, but the Texans will continue to lean on him heavily, and his on-field performance is as impressive as it’s ever been. He should have one year left of high-end RB1 production. Alfred Blue will be a recommended handcuff pick.
19. Jeremy Hill — A second-round steal out of LSU, Hill outplayed more-ballyhooed teammate Giovani Bernard throughout preseason before usurping a banged-up Bernard on the depth chart at midseason. Stuffing the stat sheet from Week 9 on, Hill registered a 172-929-6 rushing line over the season’s final nine games, averaging 5.40 YPC and emerging as the centerpiece of OC Hue Jackson’s power-running offense. Hill was also highly efficient with his pass-catching opportunities and excelled as a pass blocker. A complete back, Hill’s running style reminds of Larry Johnson in his prime. His 2015 outlook is slightly dimmed only by the healthy return of Bernard, who will siphon passing-down work and change-of-pace carries.
20. Adrian Peterson — Popped on child abuse charges before Week 2, Peterson provided fantasy owners with just one game of production after being a consensus top-five pick. The Vikings repeatedly stated they would welcome back Peterson if he were allowed to play, but the NFL rejected all of Peterson’s attempts to have his suspension overturned. Eligible for reinstatement on April 15, Peterson is highly likely to return to the football field. He will be 30 years old and has an uncertain future in Minnesota, however, due to a $12.75 million base salary. I do think Peterson is a good bet to recapture top-five running back form after resting his legs for almost all of 2014. But the uncertainty of his future creates risk. I think he’d be an excellent fit on the Vikings, creating favorable down and distances for impressive sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater.
21. C.J. Anderson — It took injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman for the Broncos to realize Anderson was their best back. He exploded when they finally did, registering a 162-767-8 rushing line (4.73 YPC) over the final eight games, in addition to 30 receptions and two more scores. Built like a bowling ball with deceptive speed and outstanding pass-game chops, Anderson profiles as a legitimate bellcow runner. His 2015 risk comes in the form of the healthy returns of Ball and Hillman, plus a new coaching staff installing a revised running scheme. Anderson’s talent and versatility aren’t in question. There is some uncertainy about how Gary Kubiak & Co. will perceive him as they evaluate the entirety of Denver’s roster.
22. Mike Evans — Although ultimately overshadowed by Odell Beckham, Evans was the most impressive rookie wideout for much of 2014. Quickly overtaking Vincent Jackson as the Bucs’ No. 1 wideout, Evans scored 12 TDs over his final 12 games, vehemently confirming his jumpball-winning ability from Texas A&M was a translatable skill. The arrow is screaming upward on Evans, who won’t turn 22 until August and is only in his fourth season of organized football after focusing on basketball for most of his high school years. He’s the 1.01 pick in Dynasty start-ups. Including college, Evans has hit pay dirt 27 times over his last 31 games. The quarterback situation in Tampa can only improve after last year’s Josh McCown-Mike Glennon debacle, and Evans is still getting better. He should be a WR1 for the next decade.
23. T.Y. Hilton — Pep Hamilton embraced a pass-first philosophy in his second year as Colts OC, and Hilton became the primary beneficiary. Ranking sixth in the NFL in receiving yards despite missing a game, Hilton capitalized on increased opportunity while Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks showed dead legs. Andrew Luck and Hilton have formed a Rodgers-Jordy-like bond, staying on the same page even when plays break down. Hilton’s route running has improved, and he is capable of beating defenses at every level of the field. He’ll be a “safe” WR1 pick with more room for growth at age 25. New bookend Andre Johnson doesn’t project as a target monster and could potentially help Hilton if Johnson commands defensive focus.
24. Randall Cobb — Cobb finally played a full 16-game season and made the most of it in a contract year, setting career highs in every statistical category as the 1B to Jordy Nelson’s 1A. The Packers’ tight end shortage and deliberate development from No. 3 receiver Davante Adams created a perfect storm for Cobb, who finished 20th among receivers in targets but eighth in catches and fourth in TDs. Cobb is only 5’10/191, but was one of the most efficient red-zone producers in football, showing terrific chemistry with Aaron Rodgers in scoring position. Cobb solidified his borderline WR1/2 value by taking less money to stay with the Packers. He should be a high-floor fantasy pick, but could be somewhat overvalued based on last year’s stats. It’s quite likely Cobb’s 2014 touchdown total will go down as his career high.
25. DeAndre Hopkins — Emerging as a true No. 1-caliber receiver in his second season, “Nuk” outproduced Andre Johnson by 274 yards and three TDs despite nearly 20 fewer targets. Hopkins also overcame shaky quarterback play to rank 12th among wideouts in yards. Hopkins has made major strides as a route runner and is the most explosive skill-position player on the Texans. And he won’t turn 23 until June. Expect the arrow to keep pointing up in Hopkins’ third year as coach Bill O’Brien dials up significantly more plays designed to get him the ball. With Johnson out of the picture, Hopkins is destined for low-end WR1 value this season.
26. Lamar Miller — Knowshon Moreno opened the season as Miami’s lead back before dislocating his left elbow in Week 2. Miller took hold of the featured job and ran away with it, averaging 5.09 YPC while setting career highs in every statistical category. Miller is a bit rough around the edges — he drops too many passes and has hiccups in pass protection — but he’s a big-play runner who flashed foundation-back ability in his third season and is still improving going on age 24. I did find it interesting that the Dolphins never let Miller reach 20 carries in a game. There is some chance Miami’s front office will want to add a back in the draft, or give impressive sophomore Damien Williams more work. For now, however, Miller should be viewed as an RB2 with RB1 upside for 2015. Moreno is a free agent and won’t be retained.
27. Tre Mason — Pass-protection deficiencies kept Mason on the bench for most of the season’s first six weeks. The third-round rookie from Auburn passed Zac Stacy on the depth chart in Week 7 and piled up 13-plus carries in all but one of St. Louis’ final nine games. It’s worth noting that Mason was the youngest running back on an NFL roster last season and won’t turn 22 until August, which hints at lots of room for growth. He clearly has big-play ability and can handle heavy workloads, exhibiting the traits of a potentially-special workhorse back. Mason will become a prime sophomore breakout candidate if he improves in the passing game. Benny Cunningham replaced Mason on most passing downs in 2014.
28. Mark Ingram — Despite missing three early-season games with a broken hand, Ingram proved one of the premier value picks in 2014 drafts. Easily holding off Khiry Robinson and capitalizing on Pierre Thomas’ injury-plagued year, Ingram finished No. 9 in per-game running back scoring while establishing career bests in every category. Still only 25, Ingram has averaged 4.65 yards per carry over his last 23 games. The Saints appear to have identified Ingram as their new offensive centerpiece, re-signing him to a four-year, $16 million deal. C.J. Spiller will siphon change-up touches, but the jettisoning of top pass-game playmakers Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills while re-signing Ingram and trading for impact run-blocking C Max Unger suggests New Orleans has morphed into a run-committed team. The Saints quietly headed this way last season, when Ingram averaged 19.2 carries over the final ten games.
29. Jimmy Graham — One year after dominating the tight end field, Graham finished third in scoring at the position while playing through a debilitating shoulder injury in the second half of the season. Graham’s final stats (85-889-10) look solid on paper, but the yards were his fewest since 2010, and his production was a far cry from what owners expected at his ADP. Graham has long struggled to play at peak effectiveness at less than 100%, thought to be one of the reasons the Saints traded him to Seattle in March. Going from one of the NFL’s pass-heaviest teams to one of the run-heaviest is a red flag on Graham’s value, particularly in PPR. I still expect him to score a lot of touchdowns, however, and to remain a top-three fantasy tight end. But Graham is no longer in the discussion with Rob Gronkowski for the overall TE1.
30. Jordan Matthews — Nick Foles had to fracture his collarbone for Matthews to get going. He took off with inside-the-numbers thrower Mark Sanchez at the helm, posting a 35-559-5 line over the last eight games, even with a Week 15 goose egg mixed in. The numbers extrapolate to 70-1,118-10 over a full 16-game slate, hinting at Matthews’ ceiling. Utilized a la Marques Colston in the slot of Chip Kelly’s spread, Matthews was frequently matched on linebackers and safeties in coverage. He is abnormally young and more athletic than billed, sort of a cross between Colston and Michael Crabtree in their primes. Matthews only played 66% of the Eagles’ snaps as a rookie, rotating in behind Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. With Maclin off to Kansas City, Matthews is headed for a full-time role and could push for low-end WR1 stats.
31. Jonathan Stewart — As has been the case for much of his career, minor injuries and an RBBC made Stewart barely worth rostering in fantasy leagues into November. DeAngelo Williams fractured his hand late that month, thrusting Stewart into every-down work. “J-Stew” flourished, flashing early-career form en route to 679 yards on 128 carries (5.30 YPC) over the Panthers’ final seven games, including playoffs. He was arguably the team’s most critical cog as Carolina went 5-1 to close out the regular season and upended Arizona in the Wild Card Round. Turning 28 in March, Stewart will be viewed as a 2015 offensive building block for the Panthers. Williams is gone, and Carolina has more pressing needs than running back. Stewart remains an injury risk, but is one of the NFL’s top pure runners when healthy.
32. Andrew Luck — If you play NBA DFS and have ever rostered Russell Westbrook when Kevin Durant is out, you’re aware of the “usage machine” concept. Luck was the NFL’s 2014 “usage machine,” ranking third in pass attempts, first in TD passes, seventh among QBs in rushing yards, and fourth in rushing scores. As Indianapolis’ running game was essentially a year-long non-factor, OC Pep Hamilton put the Colts’ offense on Luck’s shoulders. He responded by finishing second among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. With dead-legged Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks gone from Indianapolis, Luck’s efficiency should continue to trend upward throwing to T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and Donte Moncrief.
33. Aaron Rodgers — Andrew Luck led all signal callers in fantasy scoring for most of the year, but Rodgers overtook him down the stretch and never relinquished his crown as the best real-life quarterback in the game. Returning from an injury-shortened 2013, Rodgers earned NFL MVP honors while finishing third in the league in passing TDs, seventh in passing yards, and sixth in quarterback rushing. Packers GM Ted Thompson has built one of football’s best offensive lines, and running back Eddie Lacy’s passing-game impact is another boon to Rodgers’ value. With Randall Cobb returning to Green Bay, Rodgers’ weapons are the best of his career as the Packers look to Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers for year-two leaps.
34. Alfred Morris — Morris’ efficiency stats and usage lagged for a second straight season as Robert Griffin III got injured and struggled in new coach Jay Gruden’s system. Purely from a production standpoint, Morris is essentially Marshawn Lynch with RG3 on the field and Shonn Greene with other quarterbacks. Since both entered the league in 2012, Morris has 655 carries for 3,168 yards (4.84 YPC) and 23 touchdowns in Griffin’s 35 starts. Morris has rushed 221 times for 794 yards (3.59 YPC) and just five scores in 13 games where Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy has started. Morris is locked in as the Redskins’ franchise runner, but offers little in the passing game, and his outlook could take a hit if Griffin doesn’t make 2015 strides under Gruden.
35. Latavius Murray — The inept Raiders stubbornly kept freak athlete Murray on the pine deep into November. Murray rewarded them when they finally gave in, peeling off 413 yards on 76 runs (5.43 YPC) in the final six games, adding 14 receptions. Murray’s per-carry average during that span is skewed by a 90-yard TD, but he still averaged 4.31 if you exclude it. Murray is huge, fast, and can catch the football. He’s a prime 2015 breakout candidate on the suddenly upstart Raiders, who hired run-committed Bill Musgrave to be their new playcaller. Musgrave ran the Vikings’ offense during Adrian Peterson’s 2,097-yard season in 2012, and was Atlanta’s quarterbacks coach during Michael Turner’s monster years. He was the Jaguars’ OC in Fred Taylor’s prime. Two potential red flags on Latavius are the addition of third-down back Roy Helu to steal passing-game work and the Raiders’ reportedly aggressive pursuit of DeMarco Murray. Positives are the signings of blocking TE Lee Smith and C Rodney Hudson.
36. Carlos Hyde — The 57th pick in last May’s draft, Hyde spent his rookie season as Frank Gore’s backup, wresting only six touches per game from the 49ers’ 31-year-old starter. His YPC average was a modest 4.01, but lagged primarily due to frequent short-yardage and red-zone carries. Hyde held his own in pass pro and dropped just one of his 16 targets. Hyde is now set up for lead-back work after Gore’s exit, and San Francisco will remain a run-committed team under new coach Jim Tomsula. Hyde should also benefit from Colin Kaepernick’s dual threat. Concerns include the loss of dominant run-blocking LG Mike Iupati and signing of Reggie Bush to swipe receptions. Hyde’s physical profile is similar to Shonn Greene, and he’ll face the Rams, Cardinals, and Seahawks twice. Although his projected volume will seem enticing if the 49ers’ draft doesn’t bring stiff competition, Hyde is a good bet to be overhyped this fall.
37. Frank Gore — Gore easily held off rookie Carlos Hyde en route to a top-16 finish among fantasy backs. Just five all-purpose TDs in 16 games prevented Gore from being a difference maker, but he was a viable RB2/flex throughout the season. Gore’s 4.34 YPC average was quietly his second best of the last five years, showing he still has some gas in the tank. Gore is also one of the NFL’s top pass-protecting backs, which endears him to coaching staffs and keeps him on the field. Gore will be put to use as an every-down back on the up-tempo Colts. Whereas San Francisco ranked 20th in the league in offensive snaps last season, Indianapolis was second to only fast-paced Philadelphia. Severely underutilized in the passing game under old 49ers OC Greg Roman, look for Gore’s receiving production to spike in Indy, with a chance at a significant leap in touchdowns. Gore presents breakdown risk at age 32, but should flirt with fantasy RB1 numbers on Andrew Luck’s Colts as long as he stays healthy.
38. Kelvin Benjamin — Competing only with Greg Olsen for looks, Benjamin crushed his late-round ADP by finishing 12th among wideouts in TDs and topping 1,000 yards as a rookie. There are reasons for forward-looking pause, however. Lacking efficiency, Benjamin needed the sixth most targets among wide receivers to rank 19th in per-game scoring. He lacks run-after-catch and separation skills, forcing Benjamin to depend heavily on contested catches. He was also a garbage-time monster, frequently putting up production with games out of hand. Benjamin had 11 drops — second most in the league — and recorded an abysmal 51.4% “catch rate,” tenth worst among 110 wideouts charted by Pro Football Focus. Old for a rising second-year player, it’s fair to wonder how much better Benjamin will get, as he’s already 24. Benjamin is huge and should always be a TD scorer, but his 2015 fantasy owners could be a bit disappointed if GM Dave Gettleman drafts a No. 2 receiver better than Jerricho Cotchery.
39. Justin Forsett — The release of Ray Rice combined with Bernard Pierce’s failures thrust Forsett into a feature back role under run-game guru Gary Kubiak. A 29-year-old journeyman scatback on his fifth career team, Forsett exploded for the NFL’s fifth most rushing yards and a 5.39 YPC average, pacing all running backs with at least 60 carries. Re-signed for $9 million over three years, going back to Baltimore was the best-case scenario for Forsett. His 2015 role is still in question. The Ravens seem likely to draft an early-round back, and sophomore Lorenzo Taliaferro flashed promise as a rookie. If Forsett does maintain lead-back duties, he will be a PPR dynamo in new OC Marc Trestman’s production-friendly West Coast scheme. It’s also entirely possible that recency bias will cause Forsett to be overdrafted. Even for as good as he was last year, Forsett isn’t the type of running back NFL teams like to lean on heavily.
40. Sammy Watkins — Considering the ransom they paid to draft him, it’s safe to say the Bills had some buyer’s remorse after Watkins’ rookie year. Kyle Orton’s risk-averse quarterbacking didn’t help, but Watkins was severely outplayed by several wideouts drafted behind him. A cross between Torrey Smith and Pierre Garcon, Watkins is a good bet to take a second-year step forward as the go-to receiver in new OC Greg Roman’s offense, which oversaw Michael Crabtree’s 85-1,105-9 campaign in 2012 and back-to-back seasons of over 80 catches and 1,000 yards from Anquan Boldin in 2013-2014. The Bills will look to Percy Harvin, Charles Clay, and Robert Woods for complementary production. Harvin projects as the highest-volume target.
41. Isaiah Crowell — The Browns played 2014 musical chairs at running back, opening the season with Ben Tate, Terrance West, and Crowell vying for weekly carries before Tate was released in mid-November. Cleveland’s running game as a whole got caught in quicksand during the second half of the season as the offensive line allowed frequent backfield penetration after C Alex Mack broke his leg. Crowell’s first year was still promising, especially from the standpoint that he was an undrafted rookie. He stayed out of trouble after bouncing around colleges and is clearly a more talented runner than West. West is better in the passing game at this stage, however. Still, we suspect Crowell would win any camp battle against West under new OC John DeFilippo. With Mack back, Crowell has sneaky-big upside for 2015.
42. Brandin Cooks — Cooks’ preseason ADP rocketed into round six after a buzz-filled camp and preseason. Although his weekly fantasy contributions were hit-and-miss — albeit in a small sample size, Cooks was far more productive at home than away — his final stats across ten games put Cooks on an 85-880-5 pace with 117 rushing yards and two more rushing TDs. Cooks fractured his thumb in mid-November and went on I.R. All in all, it was impressive production for a rookie in a jumbled Saints pass-catcher group. With Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills out of the way, I’d be willing to set Cooks’ 2015 usage floor at 90 receptions with 20 rushing attempts. He projects as a PPR monster and focal point of Drew Brees’ passing game. I don’t think it should shock anyone if Cooks approaches 140 all-purpose touches.
43. Russell Wilson — After finishing ninth and eighth in quarterback scoring his first two seasons, Wilson’s upward trend continued with a top-three finish. Whereas the rest of the NFL’s dual-threat signal callers (e.g. Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, RG3 Jake Locker) have plateaued or regressed, Wilson keeps getting better. His arrow will continue to teeter up following the addition of Jimmy Graham. After dragging 5-foot-10 Doug Baldwin and fourth receiver-type Jermaine Kearse along with him in 2014, Wilson now has a 6-foot-6, 260-pound power forward to spray with red-zone targets. Wilson’s pass attempts have also steadily risen each year. Expect a boost in touchdown passes after Wilson managed 20 last season, ranking 16th among quarterbacks. Only Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers are better re-draft picks.
44. Travis Kelce — “Zeus” never did reach the top-shelf TE1 heights his Gronkian skill set promised during a breakout 2014, but he did finish eighth in fantasy scoring at his position. He also tied Julius Thomas for second in fantasy points per route run, which hints Kelce will become an elite scorer once the opportunities cooperate. Coach Andy Reid eased Kelce into a featured role, not making him a full-time player until Week 11. Only Coby Fleener, Antonio Gates, and Rob Gronkowski outproduced Kelce over the final five weeks. Kelce has top-two tight end potential once he is fully unleashed. The release of Anthony Fasano locks Kelce into an every-down role. Still, it must be noted Kelce plays in an offense that historically does not force feed targets to one player, and with a quarterback in Alex Smith who refuses to attempt tight-window throws. These are obstacles Kelce will have to overcome with sheer efficiency.
45. Martellus Bennett — Bennett has gotten steadily better each season since he left Dallas, and 2014 was another step forward for the at-times physically dominant tight end. Keep in mind Bennett’s spiked production correlated with injuries to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but “Black Unicorn” showed the ability to be a consistent and playmaking No. 2 pass-game option. Still only 28, Bennett has a lot of good football left and should benefit greatly from Marshall’s departure. New OC Adam Gase made spectacular use of Julius Thomas in Denver, most notably in the red zone. If Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Travis Kelce are favorites to finish 1-2-3 amongst fantasy tight ends this year, Bennett should be a close No. 4.
46. Greg Olsen — Capitalizing on the Panthers’ lack of a capable No. 2 receiver, Olsen established career highs in catches and yards while trading No. 1-option duties with rookie Kelvin Benjamin all year long. Entering 2014, Olsen had never hit 850 receiving yards in a season. He topped 1,000 in an expanded role, finishing fourth among all tight ends in targets. A concern for Olsen’s 2015 production would be an upgrade on Jerricho Cotchery and/or a big second-year leap from Benjamin. Last season was very likely Olsen’s ceiling. Still, he will be a high-floor and top-five TE1 pick as one of the steadiest pass-catching tight ends in the league.
47. Peyton Manning — Manning picked up where he left off in 2013 over last season’s initial 11 games, compiling a 34:9 TD-to-INT ratio and averaging over 323 passing yards. Peyton tanked during the home stretch, however, throwing just three touchdown passes with six picks in the final month. Manning is 39 years old, but more importantly he was physically debilitated by a torn quad that zapped his ability to torque his lower body and put velocity on passes. Manning’s arm strength had already diminished; he throws with his legs more than his arm at this stage of his career. Manning contemplated retirement after Denver’s first-round playoff loss, but ultimately agreed to a pay cut to play under new coach Gary Kubiak, whose offenses historically feature balance. Manning’s passing volume will certainly take a hit, but he should still be viewed as a mid-range QB1 with a realistic chance to recapture top-five quarterback stats. Manning is regularly available in the sixth and seventh rounds of MFL10 best-ball leagues, which may indicate he’ll be a value pick when the re-draft season rolls around.
48. Emmanuel Sanders — If there was any doubt Peyton Manning makes the players around him better, it was erased by Sanders’ 2014 explosion. Having never reached 750 yards in four seasons with Ben Roethlisberger, Sanders nearly doubled his previous yardage high while easily establishing new career bests in catches and touchdowns. The Broncos utilized Sanders in the old Marvin Harrison “Z” role opposite Demaryius Thomas, where he destroyed single coverage and frequently created mismatches in the slot. Sanders crushed his sixth/seventh-round ADP, finishing as the overall fantasy WR7. Manning’s age and late-season collapse are concerns for Sanders, but Peyton is likely to remain an effective NFL starter for at least one more year. Sanders will be worth targeting in the fourth and fifth rounds of 2015 fantasy drafts and could see a slight increase in red-zone usage with Julius Thomas out of the picture.
49. Brandon Marshall — Plagued by recurring ankle woes before fractured ribs and a collapsed lung ended his season in Week 14, Marshall severely underperformed his round-two ADP en route to eight-year lows in catches and yards. Marshall is still an effective on-field player, but lost his dominance in 2014, plenty of it due to injuries but perhaps some due to age. Now 31, Marshall got a quarterback downgrade (Ryan Fitzpatrick/Geno Smith) when the Bears traded him to the Jets. OC Chan Gailey’s spread offense produced big seasons from Dwayne Bowe and Stevie Johnson in the past, but both Bowe and Johnson were clear 1As on those teams. Marshall figures to share targets with Eric Decker and to a lesser extent Jace Amaro in New York. At this point, Marshall is off the WR1 radar but still has a chance to be a reliable WR2.
50. Julian Edelman — “Trust” may not be a quantifiable attribute, but it plays a critical role in New England’s option-route offense. Edelman established himself as Tom Brady’s most trusted receiver with Rob Gronkowski shelved for most of 2013, and didn’t relinquish the role with Gronk back and Brandon LaFell on board. A chain-moving “extension of the run game,” Edelman remained a steady WR2 in PPR leagues, finishing seventh among NFL wideouts in catches despite two missed games. Edelman’s upside is limited by his lack of red-zone and vertical skills, but he can handle a lot of volume. His value is much less in non-PPR leagues, however, where Edelman can be a frustrating WR3. New England’s passing game seems unlikely to change much this year. Edelman will return as a 90-100 catch candidate at age 29.
51. Keenan Allen — The healthy return of Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates’ renaissance year rendered Allen one of fantasy’s biggest 2014 disappointments. His run-after-catch yardage dwindled while battling an array of nagging injuries, and Allen’s touchdowns were chopped in half as Gates scored 12 TDs — his most since 2004. After drawing rookie-year comparisons to Reggie Wayne and Anquan Boldin, observers began to liken Allen to Stevie Johnson. The “sophomore slump” could make Allen a value pick in 2015 drafts. Gates is going on age 35 and Floyd will be 34. Eddie Royal is gone, and has been replaced by the aforementioned Johnson. Still only 23 years old, Allen is someone to target in Dynasty trades and should return WR2 value in re-draft leagues. Long term, he still has the ability to be an annual 90-plus catch guy.
52. DeSean Jackson — Washington’s poor quarterback play and D-Jax’s own volatility made him an inconsistent WR2, but Jackson still delivered top-17 receiver production as the go-to wideout in coach Jay Gruden’s offense. His 1,169 yards ranked 13th among wide receivers and Jackson topped 80 yards eight times. He was held under 50 yards in six games, however. Still in his prime, Jackson turned 28 in December. Jackson’s high highs and low lows can make him a frustrating player to own, but he’s a week winner when he hits big plays. Even the slightest improvement from RG3 in his second season under Gruden could go a long way for Jackson.
53. Golden Tate — Tate exploded in his first season away from run-first Seattle, carrying Detroit’s passing attack for long stretches as Calvin Johnson battled injury and rookie TE Eric Ebron came along slowly. Tate finished fifth among wide receivers in catches and seventh in yards. He was a legitimate WR1 when Johnson was missing games or employed as a decoy. Tate’s stats could be somewhat deceptive as it pertains to 2015, however. With a healthy Megatron and presumably improved Ebron, Tate won’t finish ninth among wideouts in targets again. He is a candidate to be slightly overvalued, although Tate should offer a high floor as the Welker to Johnson’s Moss. Tate has never been a big-time touchdown scorer and therefore his upside is a bit capped. He’s best viewed as a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3.
54. Jarvis Landry — As a second-round rookie, Landry was initially eased into the Dolphins’ lineup as a return man and sub-package receiver. He began playing regular snaps around midseason, bypassing Brian Hartline and even overtaking Mike Wallace as Miami’s most-targeted wideout. Landry posted a combined 59-503-4 receiving line in the final nine weeks, numbers that extrapolate to 105-895-8 on a 16-game pace. Landry is a tough, sure-handed slot receiver a la Hines Ward, and Ryan Tannehill has consistently shown an affinity for targeting the slot during his time in Miami. A potential PPR monster, Landry is a sneaky 100-catch candidate in 2015. His outlook is improving with Wallace, Hartline, and Charles Clay gone.
55. Joique Bell — We saw Bell on some fantasy waiver wires after a slow start to 2014. He went scoreless in three of the Lions’ first four games and missed Week 5 with a concussion. Savvy owners bought low on Detroit’s feature back, who rebounded to finish 14th in fantasy points at his position. Game-tape analysis of Bell wasn’t as pretty, however, as he appeared to gain weight in anticipation of a heavier workload and required cleanup surgeries on his knee and Achilles’ following the season. Bell is now heading into his age-29 campaign with a distinct possibility the Lions upgrade at running back in the draft. Bell also had a knee scope last offseason. After Detroit fielded one of the NFL’s weakest 2014 running games, Bell’s grip on lead-back responsibilities may be shaky. He won’t be on my personal draft radar for 2015.
56. Martavis Bryant — A raw but wildly gifted fourth-round rookie out of Clemson, Bryant was slow to learn OC Todd Haley’s playbook and rode the pine for Pittsburgh’s initial six games. The Steelers scaled back their no-huddle offense to get Bryant on the field and he took off, posting a 29-570-8 line across Pittsburgh’s final ten games, including playoffs. That’s despite playing very limited snaps and sharing time with Markus Wheaton. The Steelers’ usage of Bryant in their Wild Card Round loss to Baltimore could be a tell on his 2015 role. He played 81.6% of the snaps and saw nine targets. Built like A.J. Green but with better speed, Bryant will be a huge-upside target in 2015 fantasy drafts. Consistency could still be an issue as he fights for looks with Wheaton and Heath Miller behind Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
57. Andre Ellington — Rode hard and put away wet in his first (only?) season as an NFL feature back, Ellington handled a whopping 22 touches per game before sports hernia, hip, and foot injuries sent him to I.R. in Week 13. Sheer volume kept Ellington afloat as a fantasy producer, but the bottom fell out on his rushing efficiency (3.28 YPC), and on the field he looked nothing like the dynamic complementary back Ellington was as a rookie. Only 5-foot-9, 199 pounds and already 26 years old, Ellington seems highly unlikely to return as Arizona’s lead runner. He is best suited for a passing-down and change-up role, though it’s fair to wonder if Ellington will ever recapture 2013 form. With Carson Palmer coming off ACL and meniscus surgeries at age 35, running back is a position the Cardinals must upgrade this offseason. Even more than he was last season, Ellington is a prime candidate to be overvalued in 2015 drafts.
58. C.J. Spiller — Doug Marrone’s Bills again struggled to find ways to utilize Spiller, insisting on banging him between the tackles rather than letting him win on the perimeter. His season was essentially over in Week 7, when Spiller fractured his collarbone. Going on age 28, Spiller has disappointed in four of his five NFL seasons, though his career YPC still stands at 4.97, and he’s never stopped being dynamic in open space. A scheme-specific back, Spiller will be a nice fit in the Saints’ wide-open offense after signing on for $16 million over four years. My initial projection would be 9-14 touches per game, with Sean Payton employing Spiller as a “satellite” space back a la Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush. Spiller figures to be a volatile RB2/flex whose role wouldn’t necessarily change if something happened to Mark Ingram. In that scenario, the Saints could pretty seamlessly plug Khiry Robinson into the Ingram job.
59. Jeremy Maclin — Maclin filled the “DeSean Jackson role” and then some as the featured wideout in Chip Kelly’s production-friendly scheme. Both lifting the lid and funneled the football on high-percentage plays, Maclin established or matched career highs in every category. Free agency was unfortunately unkind to Maclin, who downgraded from one of the league’s best situations for a wideout to one of the worst. Chiefs coach Andy Reid spreads the ball around in his passing game, and Alex Smith is the most risk-averse quarterback in the game. After blowing up for an 85-1,318-10 receiving number last season, Maclin would do well to get back to 1,000 yards. He’s quickly gone from a WR1 to a capped-ceiling WR2/3.
60. Jerick McKinnon — Considering that he predominately played quarterback at Georgia Southern, McKinnon’s quick progression as a rookie NFL running back was quite impressive. He picked up pass protection from scratch and by Week 4 emerged as the Vikings’ lead back following Adrian Peterson’s suspension. McKinnon averaged 4.76 yards per carry while sharing time with Matt Asiata before landing on I.R. with a back injury ahead of Week 13. In terms of sheer athleticism, there aren’t five more gifted running backs than McKinnon in the NFL right now. If his recovery from back surgery goes smoothly and Peterson forces his way out of Minnesota, McKinnon could be an all-purpose fantasy monster. On the other hand, if A.P. stays put and/or McKinnon’s health problems continue, he could end up being a dud.
61. Giovani Bernard — Although he compensated with a handful of goal-line scores early in the year, Bernard was exposed as a non-feature back during his sophomore year, failing to crack 3.5 yards per carry in all but two of his first eight games. He wore down physically, succumbing to hip and shoulder injuries and missing three games before losing his job to rookie power back Jeremy Hill. Gio returned as a late-season role player, handling in the range of 9-13 touches per game down the stretch. Bernard has some nifty moves, but isn’t an adept tackle breaker or pusher of the pile, and has been an inefficient rusher. He’s failed to clear 4.0 YPC in 13 of his last 18 games and is averaging 3.63 overall during that stretch. The Bengals would still be smart to utilize him as a passing-down and change-of-pace complement to Hill, where Bernard could be an every-week flex option in PPR leagues. He’s quite capable of doing Shane Vereen-ish things.
62. Devonta Freeman — Failing to emerge from a frustrating four-man backfield that also involved dead-legged Steven Jackson, sluggish third-down back Jacquizz Rodgers, and bit player Antone Smith, Freeman labored through an inefficient rookie year, enduring several hiccups in pass protection and averaging 3.82 yards per carry. His YPC clip dips to 3.39 if you leave out his longest run. A poor man’s Giovani Bernard, Freeman can catch passes and has impressive first-step burst but lacks lateral quicks and isn’t a tackle breaker inside. He profiles best as a change-of-pace back. The Falcons are a virtual lock to spend draft capital at running back, quite likely in the top three rounds. But their only backfield move in free agency was the re-signing of Smith, who is going on age 30. Forward-thinking Dynasty owners may want to consider the likelihood that Freeman’s perceived stock is at its peak. I’d view this is an ideal sell-high opportunity.
63. Charles Johnson — The Vikings signed Johnson off Cleveland’s practice squad in September, and by mid-November he emerged as Minnesota’s No. 1 receiver, easily overtaking ballyhooed Cordarrelle Patterson. Johnson compiled a 26-415-2 line over the final seven games, numbers that extrapolate to 60-949-5 on a 16-game pace. Bear in mind Johnson was essentially a rookie, and dealing with rookie quarterback play (Teddy Bridgewater). At 6-foot-2, 215, Johnson ran 4.39 with a wicked 11-foot-1 broad jump coming out of Grand Valley State. The Vikings’ trade for Mike Wallace may prove beneficial to Johnson, as Wallace’s vertical threat tilts coverage, and I wouldn’t view Wallace as likely to command a high volume of targets. The “X” receiver in OC Norv Turner’s offense is Johnson’s position, and has been manned previously by Michael Irvin and Vincent Jackson. Wallace will play the “Z” role of Alvin Harper and Malcom Floyd.
64. Andre Johnson — Partly due to weak quarterback play and partly due to his own eroding skills, Johnson took a huge step back after consecutive seasons of 100-plus catches and over 1,400 yards. Despite seeing nearly 20 fewer targets, DeAndre Hopkins handily outproduced Johnson in yardage and TDs. Johnson ranked fifth among all wide receivers in targets, but just 38th in fantasy wideout scoring, behind the likes of Mohamed Sanu and Rueben Randle. Now going on age 34, Father Time is quite clearly catching up to Johnson. The quarterback upgrade from Ryan Fitzpatrick-Ryan Mallett to Andrew Luck is major, but Johnson’s inefficiency is alarming going on age 34, and he’ll be vying with Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and Donte Moncrief for targets behind T.Y. Hilton. Johnson has lost much of his playmaking ability and will struggle to finish top 20 in targets this season. Expect him to be a fairly up-and-down WR3.
65. Vincent Jackson — V-Jax was widely seen as a 2014 fantasy disappointment, but his catch and yardage totals were at or around his career norms. Where Mike Evans hurt Jackson the most was in the scoring department, registering 12 touchdowns to V-Jax’s two. Jackson’s efficiency was poor seeing as he finished 11th among wide receivers in targets and a lowly 36th in fantasy wideout scoring, but that was partially attributable to poor quarterback play and mainly to his TD shortage. Even at age 32, Jackson has good football left in him. An uptick in scoring seems likely based purely on natural regression. The Bucs have a better playcaller in pass-first former Falcons OC Dirk Koetter and should be improved under center, as well.
66. Rashad Jennings — A severe MCL sprain and late-season ankle injury cost Jennings five games and parts of others. He mixed in enough quality PPR weeks to return respectable fantasy value when he played, but this was Jennings’ first-career chance at a feature back job and he didn’t exactly capitalize. He averaged 3.83 yards per carry and finished with 50 fewer rushing attempts than rookie Andre Williams. Jennings is now 30 years old, and the Giants’ signing of passing-down back Shane Vereen will siphon receptions. Still the best all-around running back on the Giants’ roster, Jennings will be the lead part of a two- or three-way timeshare. A solid flex/RB3 pick, Jennings will come at a discount in 2015 drafts after being overvalued last year.
67. Anquan Boldin — Boldin keeps getting older, but his play hasn’t experienced a significant downturn. While Michael Crabtree’s on-field performance never rebounded following his 2013 Achilles’ tear and Vernon Davis fell off a cliff, Boldin maintained top-receiver duties for the 2014 49ers en route to his second straight season of 80-plus catches and over 1,000 yards. Still one of the league’s best route runners going on age 35, Boldin is annually undervalued in fantasy drafts. The 49ers’ signing of Torrey Smith to lift the lid could work in Boldin’s favor, as Smith won’t command heavy volume and will create space underneath. Boldin will remain the most-targeted pass catcher on the 49ers. He’s a good bet for another solid-if-unsexy WR2/3 season.
68. Mike Wallace — Ryan Tannehill’s inability to execute vertical passing plays minimized speedster Wallace’s greatest strength, but he compensated by matching his career high in TDs en route to a top-18 fantasy wideout finish. Wallace wasn’t a difference maker, but he was a steady every-week WR2. Reports after the season shed a darker light on Wallace’s 2014. He clashed with the coaching staff on multiple occasions and literally quit on the team in Week 17, reportedly telling coach Joe Philbin “if I’m not getting the ball thrown to me, there’s no need for me to play.” Shipped to Minnesota for a fifth-round pick, Wallace’s usage will take a hit as the “Z” receiver in OC Norv Turner’s offense, a low-volume, field-stretching role occupied by the likes of Alvin Harper and Malcom Floyd. Charles Johnson will be the “X.” Wallace should resume averaging 15-plus yards per catch, but his touchdowns and receptions could take significant hits.
69. Brandon LaFell — LaFell was something of a disappointment his first four NFL seasons, playing behind the likes of David Gettis and Legedu Naanee in Carolina. Signing a three-year, $9 million deal with New England, LaFell finally maxed out his potential as a Patriot en route to career highs in catches, yards, and TDs. LaFell is not a great athlete, but he is big, strong, versatile, and can threaten after the catch. His role should be secure for 2015 as the Patriots’ No. 3 passing-game option behind Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. After ranking No. 22 among fantasy wideouts in 2014, LaFell should have another top 25-30 receiver finish in him.
70. Eric Decker — Decker’s weekly scoring was wildly inconsistent in his Jets debut, but he did finish as a top-30 fantasy receiver and ranked 24th in yards. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, a huge chunk of Decker’s season-long production came in a Week 17 line of 10-221-1 against the Titans. It’s worth noting that a hamstring injury dogged Decker for most of the year. The Jets upgraded at offensive coordinator (Chan Gailey) and quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick), but the addition of Brandon Marshall and potential emergence of TE Jace Amaro pose threats to Decker’s usage. He projects as an up-and-down WR3 who will mix in a handful of WR2 weeks.
71. Dwayne Allen — After missing all but one 2013 game due to hip surgery, Allen returned healthy to assert himself as Andrew Luck’s go-to red-zone target. Despite ranking 26th among tight ends in targets (50), Allen finished ninth in fantasy points per game on the strength of eight touchdown catches. Allen’s elite blocking ability frequently kept him tied up on the line of scrimmage last season, but he is capable of more passing-game contributions. Still only 25 years old, Allen will be a low-end TE1 fantasy target with upside for more. The Colts’ signing of Andre Johnson will do more to “block” sophomore WR Donte Moncrief than impact Allen’s usage.
72. Antonio Gates — Perfecting the red-zone boxout and arguably running the best routes of any tight end in the NFL, Gates has extended his career several years past his theoretical “prime.” Even at age 34, Gates was a touchdown-scoring machine in 2014, also finishing fifth among tight ends in catches and seventh in yards. Only Rob Gronkowski scored more fantasy points. Father Time will catch up to Gates sooner rather than later, but he will stay a big part of San Diego’s 2015 passing offense, particularly in scoring position. Fantasy owners can’t expect double-digit TDs again, but mid-range TE1 production still seems likely at fantasy football’s weakest position. Based on early ADPs, Gates is likely to remain undervalued, even coming off a monster year.
73. Ryan Mathews — Early-career “made of glass” criticisms died down when Mathews played 16 games in 2013, but were revived as he missed all but six during his contract year. He suffered a severe early-season MCL sprain and a late-season ankle injury. Mathews’ career efficiency marks are excellent and he has every-down back tools, but he has rarely stayed healthy, even dating back to his Fresno State days. Now going on age 28, Mathews signed on to to be “2” in a “1-2-3” punch with DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles on the Eagles. My guess at Mathews’ workload is 8-14 touches per game, with increased appeal based on Murray’s injury history and breakdown concerns coming off a 497-touch season. Mathews lost value going from a lead-back role to complementary usage in Philadelphia, but he’d instantly become a fantasy RB1 if something happened to Murray. I see Mathews as an RB3 with flex viability during bye weeks.
74. Julius Thomas — “Orange Julius” remained a scoring machine for most of 2014, hitting pay dirt a whopping 12 times across Denver’s initial nine games. The bottom fell out on Thomas’ contract year quickly, however, as he failed to score a single TD from Week 11 on. Thomas is a weak blocker, which limited his late-season snaps when the Broncos transitioned to a run-oriented offense to compensate for Peyton Manning’s diminished effectiveness. Thomas also badly injured an ankle, and has had chronic ankle woes in three of his first four NFL seasons. Signing with Jacksonville dealt a massive blow to Thomas’ fantasy outlook. Over 50% of Julius’ 2013-2014fantasy production was derived from touchdown scoring, which will plummet on Blake Bortles’ Jags. His receptions and yardage may also not improve while vying with Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and potentially Justin Blackmon for targets. It’s within the realm of possibility that Thomas finishes outside the top-ten fantasy tight ends in 2015.
75. Bishop Sankey — Deficient in pass protection and unable to create yardage on his own, Sankey proved skeptical college “tape watchers” right as he failed to live up to his Combine measurables. The Titans made Sankey the first running back drafted, and proceeded to use him as a two-down rotational runner. He flashed promise early in a change-up role, but finished painfully slow, averaging 3.48 YPC with just one touchdown across Tennessee’s final 12 games. Perhaps most worrisome was Sankey’s inability to unseat Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster for snaps. Sankey’s future as a lead run-game piece is now in serious question. We wouldn’t be surprised if the Titans used another high pick at running back in the draft.
76. Zach Ertz — Still underutilized in his second NFL season, Ertz’s seasonal snap rate jumped only from 40.5% as a rookie to 50.8% as a sophomore. Brent Celek remained the Eagles’ base-offense tight end, while rookie Jordan Matthews siphoned snaps as an oft-used slot receiver. A beastly preseason led observers to believe Ertz was a prime 2014 breakout candidate, but his part-time role threw a major wrench into those expectations. Ertz finished 13th among tight ends in targets and 15th in per-game fantasy scoring. A third-year step forward still seems likely, particularly with the departure of Jeremy Maclin. Maclin finished eighth in the NFL in 2014 targets, creating tons of opportunity for Matthews, Ertz, and second-year WR Josh Huff.
77. Jordan Cameron — Cameron was a fantasy flop after ranking fourth in tight end scoring during a breakout 2013. Hindered by poor quarterback play and an array of injuries, Cameron plummeted to 16th in per-game points while suffering his third known concussion since 2012. Although Cameron is a top-five talent at his position, he’s now missed 17 games through four NFL seasons. The 26-year-old’s fantasy outlook got a boost when Cameron signed with Miami, which also let Charles Clay walk. Cameron will work the areas of the field where Ryan Tannehill throws the ball most accurately. Cameron will probably be the eighth or ninth tight end selected in 2015 fantasy drafts, but could easily return top five or even three value if his health holds up.
78. Tom Brady — It was fair to worry about Brady after a dysmal four-game start to 2014. The Super Bowl champs caught fire thereafter with Brady in the lead, compiling a 39:11 TD-to-INT ratio in New England’s final 15 games, including playoffs. Brady’s deep ball has dipped to Tannehillian levels, but he still picks apart defenses in New England’s dink-and-dunk offense. And he’s a touchdown-tossing machine whenever Rob Gronkowski is healthy. Virtually the entire Patriots offense should return intact. Their defense may take a step back after losing Darrelle Revis, putting more on Brady’s plate. He’s a mid-range QB1 with a high-end QB1 ceiling.
79. Cam Newton — After finishing as a top-five fantasy quarterback in each of his first three seasons, Cam dipped to 17th as a fourth-year pro, although he did rank eighth in per-game scoring. The reasons for Newton’s statistical dip were less about on-field play and more about health and/or bad luck. Following offseason ankle surgery, Newton fractured a rib in the preseason. He was involved in a major car accident in December, suffering two fractures in his back. Newton missed only two games, but his week-winning performances were much fewer and further between. Now healthy, recency bias could render Newton a value pick in 2015 fantasy drafts, particularly if Carolina continues to add talent to his pass-catcher corps. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen are a solid foundation, but the Panthers need another weapon.
80. Kenny Stills — Employed as a low-percentage vertical streaker early in the year, Stills was a fantasy afterthought until Brandin Cooks fractured his wrist in Week 11. Stills overtook Marques Colston as the Saints’ No. 1 receiver, putting together 86-1,333-3 pace stats in New Orleans’ final six games. Traded to the Dolphins in March, Stills was ostensibly jettisoned due to attitude issues. On the field, he’s quietly been one of the NFL’s most efficient wide receivers over the past two seasons. Stills is a better route runner than outgoing Mike Wallace, but his bread and butter remains the deep ball. The deep ball is Ryan Tannehill’s biggest weakness. Now competing with volume receiver Jarvis Landry and Jordan Cameron for targets in a more run-committed offense, Stills’ value is teetering downward in his separation from Drew Brees.
81. Percy Harvin — Harvin opened the year as an aggressively-drafted fantasy disappointment in Seattle, failing to clear 60 receiving yards in any of his first six games. The NFC champs shipped him to the Jets before the October 30 trade deadline, citing Harvin’s poor locker-room fit. Harvin was inconsistent and battled ankle injuries in New York. Released and signed by the Bills to a one-year, “prove-it” deal, Harvin will be a complementary receiver on a ground-and-pound team quarterbacked by Matt Cassel. Although he’s only entering his age-27 season, Harvin also has a scary history of injuries and attitude problems, and requires “manufactured” touches to be a consistent fantasy contributor. He seems unlikely to get that required volume in Buffalo.
82. Ben Roethlisberger — Big Ben has quietly played the best football of his career on controversial OC Todd Haley’s watch. His game reached new heights in 2014 as the Steelers surrounded him with playmaking weapons and got the best line play they’ve had in years. Roethlisberger established career bests in completion rate and TD-to-INT ratio while leading the NFL in passing yards, obliterating his preseason ADP en route to a top-five fantasy quarterback finish. 26-year-old Antonio Brown is squarely in his prime, while Martavis Bryant (23), Le’Veon Bell (23), and Markus Wheaton (24) are still in the process of getting better. Roethlisberger’s floor should be a mid-range QB1 for 2015, while he will offer top-three quarterback upside.
83. Drew Brees — Brees entered 2014 having ranked amongst the top-two fantasy quarterbacks in three consecutive seasons and five out of his last six. So his drop to No. 6 made him a fantasy disappointment. This was despite leading the NFL in pass attempts. Jimmy Graham’s debilitating shoulder injury, Brandin Cooks’ year-ending thumb fracture, and Marques Colston’s demise all played a role, but a vertical element was largely missing from New Orleans’ offense. Now 36 years old, it’s possible we’ve seen the best of Brees. The Saints took an axe to his supporting cast this offseason, trading Graham and Kenny Stills. While concerns over a “run-first offense” may be overblown, Brees’ volume is a virtual certainty to dip, and he is no longer surrounded by proven playmakers. Brees is a candidate to be slightly overvalued based on name appeal.
84. Torrey Smith — Widely expected to take over as Baltimore’s featured receiver under Gary Kubiak, Torrey instead filled a high-volatility deep-threat role, taking the top off of defenses and setting a career high with 11 touchdowns, but also tying a career low in catches (49). Torrey did draw a league-high 11 pass-interference flags, totaling 229 yards. They were of no assistance to fantasy owners, of course, who understandably struggled to determine when Torrey was so much as worth starting in a given week. Staying with the Ravens to benefit from Marc Trestman’s wideout-friendly offense would’ve been the ideal scenario for Smith. Instead, he’s headed to run-first San Francisco as a complementary deep threat across from volume receiver Anquan Boldin. Smith won’t repeat last year’s TD total, and his receptions have little room for growth. He’ll go from a borderline WR2/3 in Baltimore to a boom-or-bust WR3/4 on the Niners.
85. Brian Quick — The light finally flipped in Quick’s third NFL season. Emerging as a true No. 1 receiver the Rams so desperately need, Quick was on pace for a 64-973-8 receiving line through six games before a shoulder injury ended his season in Week 8. Quick is big, and can be an animal when he plays physically. And after dealing with Shaun Hill and Austin Davis in 2014, Quick should be getting a quarterback upgrade in Nick Foles. Question marks include St. Louis’ intentions of drafting receiver talent and Quick’s recovery from an extensive shoulder operation that repaired his rotator cuff and three torn ligaments. If he shows he’s healthy this summer, Quick should vault up draft boards. He’s a breakout candidate entering his contract year.
86. Allen Robinson — A hamstring injury robbed Robinson of his entire rookie-year offseason and much of training camp, but he still cracked the Jaguars’ starting lineup by Week 3. The second-round pick from Penn State strung together nine promising games before a broken foot landed Robinson on I.R. following Week 10. His 16-game pace stats as a starter were 86-946-4. A plus-sized leaper with an outrageous 42-inch vertical and flashes of Demaryius Thomas to his game, Robinson is an explosive athlete in a crowded Jacksonville receiver corps held back by suspect quarterback play. The addition of Julius Thomas and expected return of Justin Blackmon will help the Jaguars and especially Blake Bortles, but could throw a serious wrench into Robinson’s breakout potential. Robinson is best approached as a WR4 with WR2 upside.
87. Delanie Walker — The lone semi-stable skill-position player on the 2014 Titans, Walker took another step forward in his second year as a full-time tight end despite abysmal quarterback play. A former college wideout, Walker made big plays down the seam while doubling as a safety valve for Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst, and Zach Mettenberger. Coach Ken Whisenhunt loves Walker, openly comparing him to Antonio Gates. While that comparison borders on absurd, Whisenhunt clearly views Walker as a featured passing-game weapon. Walker’s 106 targets paced last year’s Titans and ranked sixth among NFL tight ends. Even the slightest quarterback improvement could go a long way for Walker, whose competition for targets remains minimal. Walker has solidified himself on the mid-range to low-end TE1 map.
88. Michael Floyd — Preseason reports suggested the Cardinals would transition Floyd into a No. 1-receiver role. Instead, Arizona played spread-the-wealth passing offense with a target distribution of 103 apiece for Larry Fitzgerald and rookie John Brown, and 99 for Floyd. Floyd flashed his raw tools in three 100-yard games, including an 8-153-2 effort at San Francisco in Week 17. Unfortunately, he took a statistical step back after a promising sophomore year and was droppable in most fantasy leagues by midseason. Bruce Arians used Floyd in a high-volatility, low-percentage deep-threat role. Floyd’s ability to bounce back in 2015 is highly questionable with Fitzgerald returning and Carson Palmer coming off torn knee ligaments.
89. Steve Smith Sr. — Smith’s 2014 started with a bang, topping 100 yards in three of the Ravens’ initial four games. The renaissance was short lived, with Smith going over 100 yards once thereafter. Smith still plays with an incredible sense of urgency and aggressiveness, but isn’t the vertical threat he once was and his receiving efficiency is increasingly poor. Smith finished last season as a top-20 wideout, but needed the 13th most targets among receivers to do it, and was a borderline WR3 after the first month of the year. The good news for Smith’s 2015 outlook is Baltimore lacks proven pass-catching alternatives, and new OC Marc Trestman’s offense is famously receiver friendly. Even at age 36, Smith could be a value pick for the second straight season. There’s reason to believe he can improve on last year’s stats.
90. Eli Manning — Following a bumpy August and back-to-back two-interception games by Manning to open the season, it was trendy to leave the Giants’ offense for dead. Excelling in first-year OC Ben McAdoo’s offense — and spurred by the emergence of born playmaker Odell Beckham — Eli went on a torrid pace the rest of the way, posting a 27:10 TD-to-INT ratio and averaging 284 yards across New York’s final 14 games. McAdoo’s scheme functions with timing and rhythm and emphasizes high-percentage throws. Manning’s completion rate and QBR were both easily career highs. Now entering his second year under McAdoo, Eli is a sneaky candidate for top-five QB1 production. Beckham is now an established star, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle are quality complementary pieces, and Victor Cruz will return from his knee injury. Eli could be fantasy football’s premier value quarterback pick in 2015.
91. Matt Ryan — O-Line woes, a weekly zero at tight end, and nagging injuries at wideout took their toll on Ryan’s production for most of the year. The Falcons rallied late and nearly made the playoffs as Ryan threw 11 touchdown passes and averaged nearly 317 yards per game over the final six weeks. Just a notch or two above Andy Dalton from a talent standpoint, Ryan is a quarterback that must be elevated by teammates. The Falcons essentially punting tight end in the post-Tony Gonzalez era was a mistake that cost GM Thomas Dimitroff power in the front office. Atlanta has turned to run-game maven Kyle Shanahan to coordinate its offense and will become less of a pass-dominated team. As Ryan will lose volume, fantasy owners will have to hope his efficiency rises with a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White.
92. Roddy White — Knee and ankle injuries limited White’s playmaking ability — in addition to advancing age — but he still paid fantasy dividends as a top-20 scorer in per-game points. Despite missing two games, Roddy ranked 17th among wideouts in catches and and 19th in TDs. White still possesses the foot quicks and route-running chops to create openings in man coverage, but can no longer get over the top and isn’t much of a factor after the catch. Now 33, White’s 2015 outlook is trending downward with Kyle Shanahan hired to run Atlanta’s offense. Shanahan’s scheme historically targets the No. 1 receiver heavily and uses the No. 2 as a role player. White can return WR3ish value, but won’t be a player to pursue aggressively.
93. Kendall Wright — The Titans’ offense was dysfunctional enough in Ken Whisenhunt’s first year that not a single skill-position player provided steady fantasy value. (TE Delanie Walker came closest.) Wright served as Tennessee’s No. 1 receiver by default, but finished 32nd in per-game fantasy wideout scoring. He missed two late-season games with a broken hand. Wright has been pigeonholed as a slot receiver by two NFL coaching staffs, at least partly because he’s small and not particularly fast. Perhaps Wright could be a Victor Cruz type or poor man’s Antonio Brown on a better team, but the Titans are the NFL’s worst-run team. Even as he stands atop the depth chart, Wright’s ceiling is underwhelming in Tennessee. A sheer lack of competition for targets still buoys Wright’s floor, especially in PPR leagues.
94. Pierre Garcon — After serving as the focal point of Mike and Kyle Shanahan’s 2012-2013 passing offenses, Garcon took a backseat when Jay Gruden brought DeSean Jackson to the Redskins. Garcon led the NFL in targets (182) the season before. He ranked 37th in 2014 (105). When utilized correctly and frequently, Garcon is one of the league’s best run-after-catch creators, and can get separation with quickness and physicality. In addition to his reduced role, Garcon’s going-forward outlook is complicated by Washington’s question mark at quarterback. A rebound to previous-year heights is unlikely, though WR3 value remains within reach for Garcon if Robert Griffin III makes strides in his second season with Gruden.
95. Matthew Stafford — Learning a new system under first-year Lions OC Joe Lombardi and hindered by injuries to Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, Stafford spent most of 2014 producing fantasy backup-type numbers. Stafford did rally a bit down the stretch with a healthy Megatron, compiling a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio in Detroit’s final five games. Stafford has a cannon arm but plays with wild tendencies, and his supporting cast was sub-par for most of last season. He’ll be a candidate for a big leap in year two of Lombardi. Calvin is healthy, and Eric Ebron is likely to improve during his sophomore year. Golden Tate is an excellent No. 2 and borderline No. 1-caliber wideout. The Lions play indoors against NFC North foes capable of generating shootouts. Last year’s disappointment could render Stafford a 2015 value pick.
96. Philip Rivers — The Chargers looked like a Super Bowl contender as Rivers raced to a 20:5 TD-to-INT ratio and 68.3% completion rate in last season’s initial eight weeks. The bottom fell out on San Diego’s season in a 37-0 Week 9 blowout loss to the Dolphins. Rivers went with it, throwing 11 touchdowns to 13 picks in the final eight games. One of the NFL’s toughest competitors, Rivers played through a bulging disk in his back and “very severe rib injury,” according to Antonio Gates. Rivers did avoid offseason surgery. When healthy, Rivers remains in his prime at age 33. San Diego must overhaul its offensive line, but Rivers should return to mid-range QB1 production in a likely bounce-back year. Stevie Johnson is an upgrade on Eddie Royal, while Keenan Allen is a strong bet to rebound from his sophomore slump.
97. Ryan Tannehill — Although his deep balls continued to sail far away from their intended targets, Tannehill took a third-year leap under new OC Bill Lazor, who introduced read-option plays to Miami, capitalizing on college wideout Tannehill’s athleticism. In Lazor’s high-percentage, Chip Kelly-like scheme, Tannehill set career highs in every statistic en route to a top-ten QB1 finish. Tannehill’s ceiling may always be limited by his inability to stretch the field, but he could take off if that part of his game ever clicks. For now, Tannehill should be viewed as a high-floor fantasy starter. His weapons have improved with Kenny Stills replacing Mike Wallace and Jordan Cameron offering more upside than Charles Clay at tight end.
98. Tony Romo — Coming off his second back surgery in as many offseasons, Romo looked borderline cooked as he trudged to a 2:3 TD-to-INT ratio across Dallas’ initial two games, and failed to reach 290 yards in any of the first four. What would ensue was one of the best seasons of his career, as Dallas “protected” its quarterback with a high-volume rushing attack that spiked Romo’s efficiency. He led the NFL in completion rate, TD rate (7.8%), yards per attempt, and QB rating. Romo’s 34 touchdown passes were his most since 2007. Although Romo has lost something off his deep ball, he remains a devastatingly accurate passer and has improved steadily as a decision maker. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast, including the NFL’s premier offensive line. The Cowboys won’t lose much this offseason. Even going on age 35, Romo should have one or two fantasy QB1 seasons left.
99. Chris Ivory — Ivory easily held off Chris Johnson to be the Jets’ lead back, though his per-carry efficiency dipped for a second straight season, and Ivory has never been much of a factor in the passing game. Ivory is one of our favorite running backs to watch — he is an extremely aggressive runner with BeastModian tackle-breaking ability — but Ivory’s upside is always capped by his two-down limitations. Ivory currently stands atop a Jets running back depth chart that includes only Bilal Powell and Daryl Richardson. The draft will determine whether Ivory could flirt with RB2 value in new OC Chan Gailey’s wide-open spread, or if Ivory will be more of an RB4. Ivory’s fit is questionable in Gailey’s offense, which emphasizes the passing game. I’d be surprised if New York didn’t invest in an early-round running back.
100. Coby Fleener — Fleener took a big step forward in his third NFL season, making more plays in traffic and finally fulfilling some of the promise that made him the 34th pick in the 2012 draft. Fleener still has mind-numbing drops and isn’t fond of contact, but sheer athletic ability makes him a pass-game weapon. As the Colts frequently play two-tight end sets, Fleener isn’t far off a full-time player. Not as good at football but more dynamic than Dwayne Allen, Fleener should offer a low-end TE1 floor with a mid-range TE1 ceiling. Fleener’s role could even expand if Andre Johnson’s signs of decline continue in his first year with Indy.
101. Jason Witten — Witten entered 2014 having finished sixth or higher in fantasy tight end scoring in six of his previous seven seasons. He dipped to tenth as the Cowboys implemented a run-committed offense, forcing Witten into frequent blocking assignments. He essentially became a sixth offensive lineman, blocking on well over half of his snaps. Witten’s 64 catches were a nine-year low. As Dallas is unlikely to veer from its run-heavy strategy, we can’t expect much change in Witten’s role. Entering his age-33 season, Witten’s lone hope at 2015 upside would come in the form of run-game regression. The Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray and will likely have to throw more. Still, Witten is best viewed as a not-sexy, low-end TE1.
102. Reggie Bush — Bush has been a quality fantasy runner when utilized with frequency in the past, but his role was scaled back under new OC Joe Lombardi in Detroit, partially due to injuries but also to ineffectiveness. Dogged by ankle problems, Bush posted a six-year low in YPC and was outplayed by Theo Riddick behind Joique Bell. Bush still flashed enough when healthy to suggest he has something left as a passing-game contributor. In San Francisco, look for Bush to handle 8-11 touches per game behind Carlos Hyde. Bush should have some productive PPR weeks, but may prove more of a drain on Hyde’s value than standalone asset.
103. Denard Robinson — Capitalizing on Toby Gerhart’s Week 1 high ankle sprain and resulting incompetence, “Shoelace” emerged as the Jaguars’ starting tailback in Week 7. In the subsequent four-game sample, Robinson registered a 72-389-4 rushing line, averaging 5.40 yards per carry. Robinson wore down physically thereafter, ultimately landing on I.R. with a Week 14 ligament tear in his foot. Robinson’s second NFL season was promising, but the converted quarterback still struggled in pass protection and doesn’t appear to be a natural pass catcher. It’s likely that the Jaguars envision Robinson as a long-term rotational back.
104. Terrance West — A third-round pick out of tiny Towson, West spent the first half of his rookie season in a three-way rotation with Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell, and the second half sharing with Crowell after Tate was cut. West was serviceable but unspectacular, impressing Browns coaches with his pass-game ability but averaging 3.94 YPC to Crowell’s 4.10. West is a big back but doesn’t always run like one, whereas Crowell was the Browns’ preferred red-zone option. Cleveland’s run game figures to look a bit different in 2015 under new OC John DeFilippo, who is replacing Kyle Shanahan. But the Browns have pieces in place for a top-five offensive line, and West should be involved, even if it’s in a timeshare. Crowell offers the highest ceiling in the Browns’ running back corps. West arguably offers the safer floor.
105. Shane Vereen — Trapped in a season-long timeshare with Stevan Ridley, then Jonas Gray (briefly) and LeGarrette Blount, Vereen provided low-end PPR flex value as the Patriots’ role-playing passing-down back. Vereen hit double-digit carries just twice all year and his week-to-week role depended on game plans, which the Patriots dictated based on opponent. Vereen is shifty and elusive and a highly effective receiver, but for the most part was a fantasy disappointment in New England. He faces a similar scenario on the Giants, who will likely keep Rashad Jennings in the lead-back role and have bruiser Andre Williams in reserve. Early MFL10 best-ball ADPs suggest Vereen may be pretty severely overdrafted in 2015.
106. Knile Davis — The Chiefs could never quite incorporate Davis as an every-week complement to Jamaal Charles, but his 2014 role increased anyway due to Charles’ ankle woes. Davis had at least nine carries in seven games and was an early-season fantasy beast with Charles on the shelf, posting rushing lines of 22-79-2, 32-132-1, and 16-107 in Weeks 2-4. A power-running “rhythm back” who’s much less effective in a change-of-pace role, Davis tends to play significantly better when he gets fed more carries over the course of a game. He seems unlikely to offer stable flex value if Charles stays healthy in 2015, but will be sprinkled in here and there. Davis could be a top-five fantasy running back if Charles missed time.
107. Danny Woodhead — Woodhead handled touch totals of 7 and 12 in Weeks 1 and 2 before fracturing both his fibula and ankle in San Diego’s Week 3 win over Buffalo. Combined with Ryan Mathews’ multitude of injuries, Woodhead’s loss pushed Branden Oliver and Donald Brown into prominent roles, which eventually caught up to a Chargers offense that couldn’t run the ball late in the year. When healthy, Woodhead is one of the NFL’s premier passing-down backs and fills the “Sproles role” as a trusted, chain-moving checkdown target for Philip Rivers. If early MFL10 drafts are any indication, Woodhead has a chance to be a nice 2015 value pick in PPR leagues. Even in non-PPR, Woodhead was a top-20 fantasy back in 2013.
108. Theo Riddick — Riddick spent most of his second NFL season as Detroit’s third-string back. Although he was thoroughly ineffective on the ground, Riddick shined as a pass catcher when Reggie Bush missed time, turning in receiving lines of 5-75-1, 8-74-1, 6-54-0, and 5-34-1 at various points in the season. Riddick is a one-dimensional role player, but Lions coaches seem to love him, and his projected opportunity appeared to spike when Bush was cut in February. Whether Riddick becomes a viable week-to-week fantasy asset will likely depend on the Lions’ draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if they used an early-round pick at running back.
109. Roy Helu — Helu wasted away another year as the Redskins’ passing-down back behind Alfred Morris in 2014. Morris’ unrivaled durability has made sure no one gets to see how good Helu is. Helu still managed to rank 12th among NFL running backs in receptons and fourth in receiving yards, while improving his career YPC average to 4.44. Since he strung together three straight 100-yard rushing games late in his rookie season, we’ve long wondered how Helu might fare as a legitimate lead back. Helu should get a longer look in Oakland, where he will compete with Latavius Murray and Trent Richardson for snaps. Still, at age 26 the NFL seems to have typecast Helu as a passing-down specialist. It’s his likeliest role on the Raiders.
110. Terrance Williams — Early-season Williams owners seemed to be under the impression that they’d uncovered a gem when he scored six touchdowns in Dallas’ initial seven games. Williams’ role in Dallas’ passing game was limited from the get go, however, and caught up to him as the season moved along. Finishing a lowly 75th among wide receivers in targets (65), Williams scored just two TDs the rest of the way — both in Week 16 — and failed to clear 40 yards in seven of the Cowboys’ final ten games. Williams has theoretical big-play ability, but he’s far from a spectacular talent and is behind Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and sometimes slot man Cole Beasley as an offensive option. He’s fools good for fantasy owners looking for a real breakout candidate. That said, Williams’ starting job is secure and he should see an uptick in usage based on likely regression from the Cowboys’ run game. I like him as a best-ball pick.
111. John Brown — Small-schooler Brown exploded onto the scene as a rookie, drawing Marvin Harrison comparisons from coach Bruce Arians with a 60-800-9 receiving pace through seven games. As Arizona experienced quarterback turmoil and Brown appeared to hit a Rookie Wall, the third-round pick managed a 47-676-2 pace the rest of the way. A 4.34 speed burner, Brown’s second-year outlook would have improved had the Cardinals moved on from Larry Fitzgerald. Instead, Fitzgerald will return on a revised contract. Competing for targets with Fitz and Michael Floyd in an evenly-distributed passing game with Carson Palmer coming off ACL/meniscus surgery, Brown is a long shot for reliable WR3 value.
112. Larry Fitzgerald — Like the rest of Arizona’s 2014 receivers, Fitzgerald was a frustrating fantasy player to own. The Cards shared pass-game targets almost equally between Fitz, John Brown, and Michael Floyd, and all three were adversely impacted by a revolving door at quarterback. Including playoffs, Fitzgerald failed to clear 35 receiving yards in each of his final six games while attempting to play through a severe MCL sprain. Utilized like Hines Ward in Bruce Arians’ offense, Fitzgerald has lost almost all of his vertical ability and is a possession receiver now. He’s also failed to hit 1,000 receiving yards in three straight years. Now going on age 32, Fitzgerald is someone to avoid. He’s a lock to be overdrafted on big-name appeal.
113. Davante Adams — It took just three weeks for second-round rookie Adams to bypass Jarrett Boykin as the Packers’ No. 3 receiver. Adams was a hit-or-miss producer as Green Bay’s No. 4 offensive option behind Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb, but flashed his potential in a 6-121 late-season bout with the Patriots, and a 7-117-1 playoff effort against Dallas. Adams is built like Hakeem Nicks, but is more of an underneath, run-after-catch receiver. Adams’ sophomore usage should increase based on sheer comfort and familiarity with Aaron Rodgers, but he is no longer a true breakout candidate with Cobb re-signed.
114. Doug Baldwin — Initially miscast on the perimeter in Golden Tate’s vacated role, Baldwin was an early-season non-factor in fantasy football. His season turned around on October 18, when the Seahawks traded Percy Harvin and reinserted Baldwin at slot receiver. Baldwin’s 16-game pace from that point on was 73-928-5, with a 10-147-2 line in three playoff games. Baldwin is a quick-footed, slippery inside receiver with sub-4.5 speed, but he would be best cast in a complementary role as opposed to operating as Seattle’s top wideout. The Seahawks agree, trading for Jimmy Graham to serve as their new alpha receiver. Baldwin’s role remains stable in the slot, even if his TD upside is capped by the presences of Graham and Marshawn Lynch. Baldwin is best viewed as a low-ceiling WR4. He’s a preferred option in PPR leagues.
115. Marvin Jones — One year after emerging as a double-digit TD scorer, Jones brook his left foot last preseason, then suffered a year-ending ankle injury in his first practice back. He was placed on I.R. in mid-October. When healthy — something he hasn’t been since last July — Jones is a sharp route-running, Donald Driver type with short and intermediate playmaking ability. His skill set presents a nice complement to alpha No. 1 receiver A.J. Green’s game. Expected to be ready for OTAs, Jones shouldn’t have trouble beating out Mohamed Sanu for a starting job this offseason. Jones’ statistical ceiling will still be restricted by the presence of target monster Green, return of Tyler Eifert, and Bengals OC Hue Jackson’s run-first scheme.
116. Justin Blackmon — Already serving an indefinite suspension, Blackmon was arrested for marijuana possession just before 2014 training camp. He missed the entire season, but did check himself into rehab sometime in the fall, and pleaded no contest to the marijuana charge on November 20. Since the end of last season, rhetoric coming from the Jaguars has consistently indicated optimism about Blackmon’s future. The team hopes to have word on Blackmon’s potential reinstatement before the draft. When on his game, Blackmon is a dominant run-after-catch receiver whose return might do wonders for Blake Bortles. In an ideal world, Blackmon would be the Jags’ chain-moving, high-volume “Z” receiver opposite “X” Allen Robinson, pushing Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns into sub-package roles.
117. Larry Donnell — Donnell emerged from a cluster of competing tight ends to win the Giants’ starting job in camp. His 16-game pace stats in the season’s initial four games were 100-944-16 before sputtering to 51-516-3 across the final 12. Donnell’s downturn correlated directly with Odell Beckham’s emergence, and Victor Cruz will also be back in 2015. Although he has been timed at 4.91 in the forty, Donnell is a fluid athlete with leaping and high-pointing ability. Keep in mind this will be just his second season playing extensively on an NFL field. Used in the old Jermichael Finley role by ex-Packers assistant and current Giants OC Ben McAdoo, Donnell should be a safe bet for low-end TE1 stats, with some room for more.
118. Owen Daniels — Daniels spent almost all of 2014 as the Ravens’ primary receiving tight end following Dennis Pitta’s year-ending hip injury. His playmaking ability has evaporated, failing to clear 60 yards in all but two games. Daniels finished 17th among tight ends in targets and 18th in fantasy scoring. Now going on age 33, Daniels signed a three-year, $12 million deal to follow ex-Ravens OC Gary Kubiak to Denver. Daniels will share tight end duties with 27-year-old Virgil Green. Although Peyton Manning has a knack for elevating teammates to career-best heights, that seems an unlikely outcome for Daniels considering his age and lack of effectiveness. In a more-balanced offense under run-committed Kubiak, Daniels would do well to flirt with low-end TE1 value. He’s better off approached as a later-round fantasy TE2.
119. Charles Clay — Clay took 2014 statistical steps back across the board for two reasons: He battled a knee injury throughout the year, and struggled to establish a consistent passing-game role in new OC Bill Lazor’s offense. When healthy and utilized to his max, Clay can create mismatches with his athleticism and size, and he has excellent hands. 26 years old, Clay was still valued by the Dolphins enough that management assigned him the transition tag in March, priced at over $7 million. The Bills swooped in to severely overpay via an offer sheet, however, giving Clay top-five tight end money. It won’t take long for that contract to look irresponsible. Clay will be competing for targets with Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, and Robert Woods in a run-dominated offense. Clay will be a better real-life than fantasy player.
120. Kyle Rudolph — Always long on potential but similarly short on production, Rudolph failed to flourish in OC Norv Turner’s historically tight end-friendly offense, primarily due to injuries. He underwent a sports hernia surgery in late September and missed late-season action with knee and ankle injuries. Rudolph has now missed a combined 16 games over his last four seasons. Still theoretically appealing, Rudolph is only 25 years old, and should benefit from the Vikings’ newfound quarterback stability and Turner’s system. But Rudolph has simply not proven reliable enough for re-draft owners to count on as a fantasy TE1. He also finds himself in an increasingly crowded Minnesota pass-catcher corps after the Vikings traded for Mike Wallace. Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright return at X and slot receiver.
121. Charles Sims — A third-round pick out of West Virginia, Sims fractured his right ankle in camp and opened the season on PUP. Debuting in Week 10, Sims failed to make a late-season fantasy dent, rotating with Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey and struggling to find any running lanes behind the Bucs’ woeful offensive line. Sims has plus versatility, but isn’t a flashy talent and doesn’t create on his own. He is reportedly beloved by the coaching staff and should have a chance to emerge as Tampa’s lead back in 2015. The upside is limited, but Sims should be locked into some usage as a sophomore in what should be an improved Bucs offense. OC Dirk Koetter is a pass-happy offensive mind and Sims’ strength is in the passing game.
122. Sam Bradford — Bradford suffered his second left ACL tear in less than a full calendar year last preseason, missing all of 2014. Still regarded highly around the NFL, Bradford had a strong trade market this offseason, with multiple teams reportedly offering the Rams a first-round pick to get him. St. Louis instead shipped Bradford to Philadelphia in exchange for Nick Foles and draft picks. This ranking assumes Chip Kelly doesn’t flip Bradford in a Marcus Mariota trade. If Bradford is indeed Kelly’s “guy,” his stock gets a considerable boost in a speed-based offense that’s turned Foles and Mark Sanchez into QB1s. Bradford played in a similarly up-tempo spread at Oklahoma, and Kelly has proven to be a true manufacturer of production. Bradford’s supporting cast is also considerably better than it was in St. Louis.
123. Joe Flacco — Although Flacco didn’t light up the stat sheet — he ranked 13th in fantasy quarterback scoring — his on-field play was among the best of Flacco’s career under OC Gary Kubiak. Complemented by one of the NFL’s top run games, Flacco set career highs in TD passes and QBR while playing much more consistent football week to week. Flacco has a howitzer arm and passable athleticism. He’s never been a high-level fantasy passer and we’ve stopped holding out hope, but another step forward could be in the cards under new OC Marc Trestman, whose West Coast principles are similar to Kubiak but is much more a proponent of pass-first football. With Steve Smith Sr. aging, Dennis Pitta’s future unknown, and Torrey Smith off to San Francisco, however, the Ravens are going to need weapons.
124. Colin Kaepernick — Kaepernick’s 2014 on-field performance regressed amid dysfunction in San Francisco. Not useful in fantasy even against the NFL’s worst defenses, Kaepernick’s QB rating dipped for a second straight year and he failed to compensate with his legs, managing one rushing TD after scoring nine times across 29 games in 2012-2013. “Kap” has a hose for an arm and game-breaking athleticism, but his development has gone in the wrong direction. The new 49ers regime plans to dial up more read-option plays, encouraging Kaepernick to run. This would be a huge boon to Kaepernick’s fantasy outlook, and his supporting cast got a big upgrade going from Michael Crabtree to Torrey Smith. There’s also a chance the 2015 49ers are a legitimately bad team, forcing more volume onto Kap’s plate. His passing ability remains a major question mark, but Kaepernick will continue to offer upside as a QB2 pick.
125. Justin Hunter — Hunter continues to offer a tantalizing blend of size and speed, but his on-field performance has reached Stephen Hill levels. Titans WRs coach Shawn Jefferson — formerly of the Lions — is on record as stating Hunter has superior physical tools to Calvin Johnson. Hunter became a starter in his second NFL season, but was held under 50 receiving yards in 8-of-12 games before lacerating his spleen in Week 13. Turning 24 in May, Hunter remains a developmental project entering year three of his career. He has shown a tendency to play “soft” and displays inconsistent ball skills. The good news is Hunter’s fantasy-draft price tag will be much cheaper this year than last. He’ll be worth a late flier as a WR5.
126. Doug Martin — Martin simply hasn’t been the same player since his rookie year. Although Tampa’s poor run blocking has inarguably played a role, Martin has a 3.64 YPC average and just three touchdowns over the last two seasons, a 17-game, 261-carry sample. “Muscle Hamster” did close out 2014 on a strong note, piling up 221 yards on 43 runs (5.14 YPC) over his final three games. The Bucs placed him on the trade block in October, however, and when Martin was in the lineup he rotated with Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims. At age 26, Martin’s career may be at a crossroads. 2014 third-rounder Sims was handpicked by the new Bucs regime, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Martin ended up on another roster before the 2015 season starts.
127. Austin Seferian-Jenkins — A college foot injury continued to plague Seferian-Jenkins for most of his rookie year, before a back injury sent him to injured reserve in December. “ASJ” wasn’t very good when he did play, appearing hindered on the field and managing 221 yards with two touchdowns on 38 targets. Seferian-Jenkins is enormous with an ideal athletic profile, and it’s the norm for rookie tight ends to struggle. New Bucs OC Dirk Koetter has an impressive history with tight ends, having coaxed a career year out of Marcedes Lewis in Jacksonville and made creative use of Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson will command heavy targets on the perimeter, while Seferian-Jenkins will work the middle of the field. A (likely) rookie quarterback is an obstacle to ASJ’s breakout potential. If he fails to flirt with low-end TE1 numbers this year, Seferian-Jenkins will be a highly recommended buy low in 2016. Jackson is very likely in his final season with Tampa. Put simply, I see Seferian-Jenkins as a better Dynasty than re-draft asset as it pertains to 2015.
128. Josh Hill — A 2013 undrafted free agent out of Idaho State, Hill spent his second NFL season as a blocker and red-zone receiver behind Jimmy Graham. Through two years, Hill has parlayed 30 targets into 20 catches for 220 yards and six TDs. He knows how to block — which will keep Hill on the field — and has 4.66 speed with a Vernon Davisonian 10-foot-7 broad jump. Following the Graham trade, there’s every reason to believe Hill will be a big part of the Saints’ 2015 offense. New Orleans’ top weapons as it stands are running backs, Brandin Cooks, Hill, Marques Colston, and Nick Toon. Not yet 25 years old, 6-foot-5, 246-pound Hill has a ton of opportunity and is a Sean Payton favorite. He is fantasy’s premier 2015 sleeper.
129. Marques Colston — Despite his fast finish to 2013, rumblings of Colston’s impending demise were proven true. Colston’s separation skills have reached an all-time low and his efficiency has bottomed out. Colston dropped eight of his 99 targets last season, while his role was noticeably reduced in Sean Payton’s offense. Colston will return to the Saints after accepting a pay cut, but his usage is in doubt, even after the departures of Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. It’s fair to wonder if Nick Toon, Seantavius Jones, and Brandon Coleman are better options at this point. It’s also fair to wonder if Colston has a renaissance season in him.
130. Teddy Bridgewater — Replacing injured Matt Cassel in Week 3, Bridgewater labored through his first six NFL starts to the tune of a 4:6 TD-to-INT ratio. He sparked the Vikings in a fast finish, compiling a 10:6 TD-to-INT ratio, 68.9% completion rate, and 98.1 QB rating over the final six games. Bridgewater excelled despite poor line play, an M.I.A. Kyle Rudolph, and Cordarrelle Patterson’s sophomore regression. Bridgewater’s go-to guys were Charles Johnson, aging Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, and backup-caliber TE Chase Ford. A second-year step forward into top-12 QB1 production seems somewhat unlikely, but can’t be ruled out. Bridgewater is an accurate, composed passer with rushing ability. With Rudolph healthy (for now) and Mike Wallace aboard to stretch the field, Bridgewater should be a high-floor QB2.
131. Jay Cutler — Cutler remained a fantasy asset in Marc Trestman’s quarterback-friendly system — he finished as the overall QB9 in points per game — but his on-field play regressed badly in season one of a mammoth seven-year, $127 million deal. Cutler’s refusal to execute Trestman’s timing-and-rhythm scheme led to a late-season benching in favor of Jimmy Clausen, and Cutler led the NFL in turnovers. Cutler effectively sabotaged the offense by refusing to play within structure. Cutler is athletic with a strong, mostly accurate arm, but has long lacked discipline and is prone to long droughts of ineffectiveness. With Trestman gone, the Bears will turn to Adam Gase to run their offense. As new GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox were initially noncommittal on Cutler’s future in Chicago, it’s fair to wonder if he might open 2015 on a short leash. Cutler will be a dicey QB2 pick, albeit one with upside. Gase is a pass-first mind and the Bears’ weapons remain strong even after trading Brandon Marshall.
132. Carson Palmer — Although it cost him three games, Palmer overcame an early-season arm injury scare to throw multiple touchdown passes in each of his first five appearances. The bottom fell out on Arizona’s offense when Palmer suffered a torn ACL with meniscus damage in Week 10. It’s the second ACL tear of Palmer’s career. Now 35 years old, Palmer’s rehab is reportedly on schedule, but investing much into old quarterbacks with bum knees is poor process, particularly when they play in the NFC West. Palmer was one of my favorite QB2 picks last year, and paid off when he was available. I will be avoiding him this season.
133. LeGarrette Blount — The Steelers cut Blount in mid-November after he gave them minimal on-field production behind Le’Veon Bell. He resurfaced six days later with the Patriots, who put Blount to use immediately. A battering ram who’s very hard to bring down when the blocking gives him a full head of steam, Blount registered a combined 107-470-6 rushing line across eight games with the Pats, including the playoffs. He averaged a solid 4.39 yards per carry. Blount signed a two-year deal with New England and will return to compete for carries with several other backs. Although Blount has been productive for them in the past, the Pats view him as an expendable commodity. Blount could have 2015 fantasy value if he wins a job near the top of the depth chart as a game plan-specific, power-running weapon.
134. Darren McFadden — Painfully stiff in the hips and never a true tackle breaker, McFadden was one of the worst backs in football for the third straight year. “DMC,” in fact, has failed to reach 3.5 yards per carry in four of his last six seasons. Although McFadden can be useful in the passing game, he doesn’t make defenders miss or run over them in open space. He simply has very little to offer. Signed by the Cowboys to a two-year, near-minimum deal, McFadden will compete for a roster spot in training camp. Only the landing spot makes McFadden slightly appealing, as Dallas has the league’s best offensive line. Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, and perhaps even 2014 practice squadder Ryan Williams are better options to tote the rock, however, and the Cowboys are a lock to spend draft capital at running back.
135. Andre Williams — Williams is huge, can run with power, and has great measurables, but the limitations to a game are a threat to his NFL longevity. He has bricks for hands and major trouble at the line of scrimmage, where Williams is prone to stuffs and negative runs. He’s like a more athletic version of LeGarrette Blount. Where Williams did shine as a rookie was when the blocking gave him room. He had big late-season games against the Titans (24-131-1) and Rams (26-110). Some of Williams’ deficiences may be fixable, while others aren’t. If it comes together for him, Williams could become a Michael Turner type. If it doesn’t, Williams might not last in the league longer than his rookie contract. The Giants’ signing of Shane Vereen to complement Rashad Jennings figures to render Williams a 2015 third-string back.
136. Lorenzo Taliaferro — A fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina, Taliaferro spent the Ravens’ first 13 games battling Bernard Pierce for short-yardage snaps behind Justin Forsett. Taliaferro excelled in the passing game when given opportunities, but wasn’t fully trusted there by then-OC Gary Kubiak. Taliaferro missed the final three weeks with knee and ankle sprains. A downhill runner who can catch and block, Taliaferro is an intriguing NFL prospect with workhorse potential. The future of Baltimore’s backfield is in question under new OC Marc Trestman, however, even with Forsett returning. Taliaferro’s outlook could be affected significantly by the Ravens’ draft. They’re very likely to take one with an early-round pick.
137. Stevan Ridley — Used in a game plan-specific rotation with passing-down back Shane Vereen, Ridley was a hit-or-miss fantasy option in New England’s volatile backfield before tearing both his ACL and MCL in Week 6. He underwent reconstructive knee surgery on November 18. When healthy, Ridley is one of the better pure power backs in the league with quick feet and deceptive short-area burst. He averages 4.34 yards per carry in his career and is particularly effective on goal-line runs. Now a free agent coming off multiple knee ligament tears, 26-year-old Ridley’s future is uncertain. If he gets healthy, Ridley is talented enough to win a training camp battle and earn regular carries in a power or inside-zone rushing attack.
138. Darren Sproles — Sproles teased with 263 total yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ first two games, but he was an afterthought on offense the rest of the way, utilized as a package player and special teamer in his first season under Chip Kelly. Although Sproles was effective on the field, from a fantasy standpoint he served more to chip away at LeSean McCoy’s receiving usage than establish himself as a standalone flex option. He also missed time with an MCL sprain. Sproles is entering his age-32 season on a team that doesn’t envision him as more than a lightly used “satellite” back. In 2015, Sproles will be the No. 3 option in a “1-2-3” running back punch behind DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews.
139. Branden Oliver — Undrafted out of Buffalo, Oliver ran circles around sixth-round pick Marion Grice in Chargers camp and was forced into a significant role as Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, and Donald Brown all succumbed to injuries. Stretched thin when asked to run between the tackles behind a porous line, Oliver managed a 3.64 YPC average and was exposed as incapable of effectively handling workhorse duties. Oliver’s best NFL fit is as a passing-down/change-of-pace back, which is Woodhead’s role in San Diego’s offense when healthy. The Chargers are very likely to draft their starting running back. Oliver is a trap for sleeper-seeking fantasy owners. He projects as a third- or fourth-stringer on the 2015 Bolts.
140. Fred Jackson — Finally showing his age, F-Jax only missed two games but was hobbled by a groin injury for much of last season while averaging a career-worst 3.72 yards per carry. He remained a steady PPR producer whenever he was in the lineup, quietly setting career highs in catches and yards. Jackson has been a reliable real-life and fantasy asset for the better part of a decade, but he is now 34 years old and Buffalo’s coaching staff has changed. New OC Greg Roman rarely utilizes tailbacks as pass catchers — minimizing F-Jax’s strength — and LeSean McCoy will be put to use as a bellcow. Jackson is best approached as a Shady handcuff in 2015.
141. Dwayne Bowe — The exact same criticisms of early-career Michael Crabtree became commonplace with Bowe in two years of Alex Smith’s quarterbacking. He’s “slow” and “can’t separate,” although it’s hard to evaluate Bowe’s game due to Smith’s risk aversion and unwillingness to pull the trigger on difficult throws. Smith went all of 2014 without throwing a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Thus, Bowe finished scoreless for the first time in his career. Bowe is going on age 31, and it’s possible he simply doesn’t have much left. Whatever the case, landing in Cleveland to attempt to corral Josh McCown’s errant passes won’t rehab Bowe’s fantasy stock. Even as a go-to guy, he would do well to return low-end WR3 value.
142. Cecil Shorts — Drawing comparisons to Miles Austin and the original Human Hamstring Pull Donte’ Stallworth, Shorts labored through an injury-riddled 2014 contract year with the Jaguars. Blake Bortles can be partially blamed for Shorts’ brutal 52% “catch rate,” but Shorts was running high-percentage routes and has never had the surest of hands. Shorts was a fantasy starter early in his career with Jacksonville, but his value was derived from frequent comeback-mode passing on bad teams where Shorts was the only viable option. His talent is average or slightly above. In March, 27-year-old Shorts signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Texans. He’ll be a complementary receiver on a run-first team behind DeAndre Hopkins.
143. Malcom Floyd — Floyd’s return from a scary 2013 neck injury took a big bite out of Keenan Allen’s production, but boosted the Chargers. Despite his advancing age, Floyd restored a vertical element to San Diego’s passing attack. It was arguably his finest NFL season. Floyd just barely cracked the top-30 fantasy receivers, however, and will turn 34 years old early in the 2015 season. The Chargers have upgraded at slot receiver, landing Stevie Johnson to replace Eddie Royal. They also may look to No. 2 tight end Ladarius Green for a slightly bigger role. A low-percentage, low-volume perimeter receiver, Floyd will be a low-ceiling WR4.
144. Albert Wilson — Undrafted out of Georgia State, Wilson began earning snaps around midseason and became a near-full-time player beginning in Week 12. Wilson posted receiving lines of 4-53, 3-69, and 5-87 in Weeks 14-16 before being held catch-less in Chase Daniels’ Week 17 spot start. Wilson is a favorite in metrics circles because he was extremely productive in college and offers measurables similar to Kendall Wright and Randall Cobb. An intriguing slot receiver prospect, Wilson could be a sneaky 60-75 reception candidate if opportunity cooperates. As it stands, Wilson is Kansas City’s No. 3 passing-game option behind Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce. The Chiefs’ draft could impact Wilson’s outlook.
145. Heath Miller — Miller’s week-to-week consistency was an issue for fantasy owners, but his final counting stats placed him in the top 12 among tight ends, and Miller ranked seventh at his position in receptions. He only scored three TDs, however, and managed fewer than 50 yards in nine games. Miller did continue to run block at a proficient clip, but his separation skills are understandably lacking and the Steelers didn’t call frequent plays for him in the red zone. As Miller is now going on age 33, the Steelers would be smart to begin searching for his successor in the draft. Miller won’t be someone to target in fantasy beyond best-ball leagues.
146. Donte Moncrief — A third-round pick out of Ole Miss, Moncrief proved a quick study during his rookie season, severely outplaying Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks despite seeing far fewer snaps. Highly efficient with his opportunities, Moncrief averaged 9.06 yards per target, which falls in the Demaryius Thomas (8.80) to Julio Jones (9.77) range. Moncrief is big, fast, explosive, and abnormally young. He won’t turn 22 until August. Unfortunately, Moncrief’s re-draft stock took a massive blow when the Colts signed Andre Johnson. While Moncrief could still become an every-week WR3 if something happens to Johnson or T.Y. Hilton, he remains buried amid a pass-catching cast that also includes Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. On the bright side, this is a good buy-low opportunity for Dynasty leaguers. Moncrief remains Andrew Luck’s “X” receiver of the future, and there’s a reasonable chance 34-year-old Johnson lands just one year in Indy.
147. Rueben Randle — 6-foot-3, 210 with a touchdown-scoring track record and set up for heavy targets, Randle was in a prime spot entering the season. He failed to deliver, just barely scrounging out WR3-caliber fantasy stats until the final two weeks of the season, when Randle exploded suddenly for stat lines of 6-132-1 and 6-158 against the Rams and Eagles. Although Randle easily set career highs in catches and yards, his forward-looking projection didn’t improve as Odell Beckham emerged as a legitimate No. 1 receiver and Larry Donnell became what the Giants believe is their tight end of the future. Victor Cruz is due back from his knee injury. Randle’s window for heavy targeting may have slammed shut. He could be as low as New York’s No. 5 receiving option in 2015, behind Beckham, Donnell, Cruz, and Shane Vereen.
148. Stevie Johnson — The 49ers had little use for Johnson despite acquiring him from Buffalo for a fourth-round pick before last season. He spent the year rotating with Brandon Lloyd as a sub-package wideout behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Although he’s never been a burner, Johnson has always offered plus route-running and run-after-catch skills. A timing-and-rhythm receiver, Johnson was a poor fit for “see-it, throw-it” passer Colin Kaepernick. Still on the right side of 30, Johnson has resurfaced as Eddie Royal’s slot receiver replacement in San Diego. Royal posted a 62-778-7 line last year. Johnson is better than Royal, although that TD total will likely prove tough to reach. Still, Johnson should have a chance to catch 55-65 balls.
149. Jared Cook — Despite playing with Austin Davis and Shaun Hill, Cook established a new career high for receptions in 2014, and finished as a top-15 fantasy tight end in standard scoring. Cook is big and runs like a wideout, but his lack of agility renders Cook a “one-trick-pony” tight end whose real-life value is limited when he isn’t making big plays down the seam. Cook is also a poor red-zone producer considering his stature. The Rams traded for Nick Foles this offseason, potentially giving Cook a competent passer. Cook has endured poor quarteback play throughout his career. While a truly big box-score season may never be in the cards, 28-year-old Cook should make a run at low-end TE1 value this year and have some usefulness during bye weeks. I think he’s a particularly underrated TE2/3 asset in MFL10 best-ball leagues.
150. Khiry Robinson — Robinson spent the first half of his second NFL season fighting Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet for scraps behind Mark Ingram. When various injuries sidelined Ingram for three games, Robinson combined for 245 yards and a TD on 47 carries (5.21 YPC), adding three catches for 26 yards. Robinson missed most of the second half of the year with a fractured forearm. Robinson is a tough inside runner with underrated passing-game chops. Unfortunately, the re-signing of Ingram and addition of C.J. Spiller have relegated Robinson to third-string duties, for now. Robinson will be a late-round handcuff pick who could become an RB2 if something happened to Ingram or Spiller. Ingram and Spiller both have injury histories.
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