Mock Draft Version 1.0 – Rounds 1 & 2

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Some eager folk may have already completed their actual fantasy drafts ahead of the upcoming 2014 NFL season, but for me and many alike, we are in the midst of mock draft madness. This, however, is only my first mock draft – not of the season, but ever. Having never felt the need to participate in one before, I feel that it is a necessity if I am going to take this fantasy football thing seriously. Seriously.

To keep it true to the league I created, I joined a ten-team mock draft, again using ESPN’s service, and joining the first available ten-team draft with a full lobby. After five minutes of waiting, we were all set to begin the standard snake draft. Here are the results, along with some observations.

 

Round 1

Pick #1 – Matt Prater, K, DEN

Not exactly what I was expecting to see with the first pick of a mock draft. I’m not sure whether this was a legitimate attempt to sabotage this particular draft, or whether it was merely an accidental pick. I’ll give the player the benefit of the doubt though, considering the rest of his picks were actually sane.

Pick #2 – Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN

This is more like it. With what I’m classing as the first official pick of the mock draft, Minnesota Vikings running back and future Hall of Fame player Adrian Peterson is selected. He didn’t validate his average draft position (ADP) of first overall last season, following his 2,097 yard rushing season the year before, but he was still one of the top players at the running back position and surely will continue to be.

Pick #3 – Jamaal Charles, RB, KC

I think that Jamaal Charles has a case for being drafted first in any redraft league, because of his performance on the ground as well as in the air last year. But I envisage Adrian Peterson having a higher ADP due to reputation. No shame in grabbing Charles with the third overall pick though.

Pick #4 – LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI

The running back who joins Peterson and Charles in the elite bracket is LeSean McCoy, so it would make sense that he is the next player taken after them. He racked up 1,607 rushing yards, 537 receiving yards, and 11 total touchdowns in 2013, and this year’s stats could be just as impressive. A top-five lock.

Pick #5 – Matt Forte, RB, CHI

After Peterson, Charles, and McCoy, Forte, Lynch, and Lacy headline the best of the rest when it comes to running back. The first off the board in this bracket is Chicago’s Matt Forte. He posted career highs for rushing and receiving yards and rushing touchdowns in 2013, but there is the risk that they remain career high statistics. Personally, I wouldn’t take Forte in the first round. I would rather take one of the top two QBs or WRs available. If he’s taken before my draft pick, then I’ll be happy.

Pick #6 – Calvin Johnson, WR, DET

The best wide receiver in this draft is the sixth player off the board. Probably not a bad pick at this position because, barring something major, Calvin Johnson will be a top-three fantasy wideout. Although he’ll have competition for targets from Golden Tate, Brandon Pettigrew, and perhaps Eric Ebron, Megatron will still have plenty of opportunity to score some serious points.

Pick #7 – Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB

I was somewhat surprised to see Aaron Rodgers taken seventh overall. Whilst this may not happen in the majority of drafts, the possibility of Rodgers being taken early on is very real. I would place him in the elite quarterback category, but behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. However, if Rodgers can stay healthy this season, there is reason to believe he can provide value as the seventh overall pick, with a strong receiving corps including Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.

Pick #8 – Marshawn Lynch, RB, SEA

Next drafted from that secondary bracket of running backs is Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. Lynch, who was an integral part of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl winning season has rushed for at least 1,200 yards each of the past three seasons, scoring an impressive average of 0.83 touchdowns per game. It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him put up some similar numbers this time around, especially with him playing in an offense who ranked second-to-last in passing attempts last year. However, wear and tear is a slight concern with Lynch. Over the last three seasons he has the most rushing attempts with 901, which rises to over 1,000 when you include playoff games. At age 28, this could factor into Lynch’s fantasy value. But while ‘Beast Mode’ is still running wild, his fantasy value is cemented in the first round.

Pick #9 – Eddie Lacy, RB, GB (My Pick)

Finally, I was able to make my first selection of this mock draft with the ninth pick, and I chose Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy. If this was my first round pick in the real draft, I’d be pretty darn happy. Lacy should get plenty of carries, even in a pass-orientated offense with Aaron Rodgers under center. Now, with the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year alongside Rodgers in the backfield, the Packers will be able to hand the ball off with confidence. Lacy should also see most of the goal-line opportunities, which would be good for his owners.

Pick #10 – Peyton Manning, QB, DEN

It wasn’t surprising to see last year’s highest-scoring quarterback taken in the first round, because he should still post elite numbers this year. Peyton Manning will once again take snaps behind one of the best offensive lines in football, whose best player will return in left tackle Ryan Clady. Even though the Broncos lost Erick Decker and Knowshon Moreno in free agency, they signed Emmanuel Sanders, drafted Cody Latimer, and have Montee Ball to step into that void. Manning is a first round selection, but this year it may not be wise taking him with such a high pick – which is something that became apparent as this draft went on.

 

Round 2

Pick #11 – Jimmy Graham, TE, NO

To open up the second round, we had the selection of Jimmy Graham by the person who just drafted Peyton Manning. Graham provides a considerable advantage to his owner at tight end, due to the lack of competition for top spot. Last season, Graham averaged a touchdown per game and had 1,215 yards to boot. Unless Rob Gronkowski stays healthy for the whole season and recaptures his old form, Jimmy Graham will stand alone as the top fantasy tight end.

Pick #12 – Drew Brees, QB, NO (My Pick)

So because I picked second-to-last in the first round, I picked second in the second.  With that pick I took the man who will be supplying Jimmy Graham with those touchdown passes – Saints quarterback Drew Brees. It’s worth noting that I rate Peyton Manning as QB1 this season and Brees as QB2, ahead of Aaron Rodgers who I have as QB3. But the reason I chose Brees here is because he has consistently posted great numbers for the past few years, and 2014 should be no exception. Manning, Brees and Rodgers are three quarterbacks in a league of their own, and it is likely that in each league they will be drafted early on.

Pick #13 – Doug Martin, RB, TB

The Muscle Hamster enjoyed a big rookie season, rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, whilst adding on 472 yards and one touchdown receiving. But 2013 was a different story, as Martin went down with a torn labrum in October, and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve. Whether or not he will receive as many carries as he did before his injury remains to be seen, with newly drafted Charles Sims joining fellow running backs Mike James and Bobby Rainey as players who may take on some of the load. I think that taking Doug Martin with the thirteenth overall pick is a sizable risk. But if he plays like he did in 2012, then he could be a fantastic investment in the second round.

Pick #14 – Arian Foster, RB, HOU

Like Martin, the next pick in the draft – Arian Foster – also represents some risk due to health issues. Last year, he missed half the season with a back injury and he ended up on IR, having to have surgery in the offseason. The surgery was a success, and Foster should be ready and raring to go Week 1. The big question is if he can return to form as well as stay healthy. If he can, then Foster is a top-five back. If not, then drafting him this high is a big mistake.  Personally, I would draft Foster over Martin, because if both players are healthy then I’d expect Foster to perform better at this moment in time; especially with the Texans having an inferior pass game to the Buccaneers. However, I would probably wait until at least the third round to take either of them.

Pick #15 – Zac Stacy, RB, STL

Zac Stacy was one of the surprises of 2013, and as a fifth round pick he rushed for 973 yards and scored eight touchdowns in 14 games. Now although they aren’t sparkling numbers, they are strong statistics for a rookie who missed two games, and probably would have gone for over 1,000 yards if he had featured in all 16. Having said that, Zac Stacy is no lock to smash his totals from last season, and establish himself as a top back in fantasy football. Taking him as high as fifteenth overall seems very risky to me, especially when some of the top WRs remain, as well as running backs who appear to have a higher ceiling than Stacy himself. I’m saying this one is a reach.

Pick #16 – A.J. Green, WR, CIN

Probably the second best receiver in the league behind Calvin Johnson is Cincinnati’s A.J. Green. If this was a genuine draft, then the person who made this pick, also nabbed Johnson in the round previous. Not a bad way to start off a draft. Can’t say there’s much negative to say about this pick. Andy Dalton’s top target should also be a top fantasy player, and represents good value in the middle of the second round.

Pick #17 – Demaryius Thomas, WR, DEN

So this seems to be where the bulk of the top receivers are coming off the board. Next up is Demaryius Thomas, who should once more benefit from having Peyton Manning throwing him the ball. At this point, Thomas is a better prospect than any of the remaining running backs. Another good pick.

Pick #18 – Dez Bryant, WR, DAL

Another one bites the dust. Dez Bryant is the top receiver in Dallas, and as Tony Romo’s go-to receiver, he should see plenty of targets in 2014. This is a good pick for this player, who took Jamaal Charles in the first round. They should be a solid one-two combination.

Pick #19 – DeMarco Murray, RB, DAL

To break the chain of wide receivers we had going on was another Dallas player – running back DeMarco Murray. Murray has the chance to rack up plenty of yards and touchdowns, as he is the Cowboys’ lead back and will be there to take pressure of Romo and the running game. Whilst he isn’t one of the most risky picks, he could turn out to be too safe if other running backs drafted after him excel.

Pick #20 – Le’Veon Bell, RB, PIT

This is one of those risky picks I was talking about. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell could be seen as a slight reach here in round two. But with Zac Stacy drafted five picks ahead of him, Bell’s position doesn’t seem all that bad. His 860 yards and eight touchdowns rushing in just 13 games were impressive rookie numbers, and whether he is worth the twentieth overall pick will depend on whether he can step up this year and take his game to the next level. Whilst I do feel that Bell will enjoy a really good sophomore season, I would rather take the risk on someone who was drafted in round three – Montee Ball.

 

Check back for rounds three and beyond!

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Ray Rice suspended two games; fantasy outlook worse than before

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The NFL today released a statement, saying that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been suspended for the first two games of the season, following his indictment for aggravated assault.

Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault and domestic violence on 15 February after an altercation with his fiancée at the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City.

In addition to the suspension, the league has also hit the former second round pick with a $58,000 fine.

Rice has already commented on his ban through a statement released by the team. He said: “It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that’s my fault.”

“There are consequences when you make a mistake like that,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy.”

Although the suspension covers the Week 1 opener against San Francisco, and their Week 2 matchup on the road to the Dallas Cowboys, Rice is eligible to participate in training camp and all of Baltimore’s preseason games.

The verdict will harm an already fragile fantasy outlook. Coming off the back off of four straight seasons with at least 1,100 rushing yards and at least six touchdowns, the three-time Pro Bowler went into 2013 as a projected top-ten running back, but he largely disappointed.

Missing just one game, Rice managed only 660 yards from 214 carries, giving him a paltry 3.1 yards per carry average. His decline can be attributed to high workload. From 2009 to 2012, Rice had the ball in his hands no fewer than 317 times, and cracks began to show last year, with his carries falling to 214.

In 2013, the Rutgers product was drafted at an average of sixth overall, according to MyFantasyLeague. So far this year Rice is, on average, the seventy-third pick– showing a large decline in his fantasy stock in just under a year.

He may be worth taking a flier on any time after round eight or nine, due to his track history and job security as the lead back in Baltimore, as either a flex player or bench depth. But keep in mind he’ll have to sit for the first two weeks of the season.

Montee Ball – Primed to shine?

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For much of his rookie season, Montee Ball was stuck behind a player who enjoyed a breakout year – Knowshon Moreno. In the offseason, the Broncos allowed Moreno to hit free agency, and he ended up in Miami with the Dolphins on a one-year, $3 million deal. Moreno’s departure has cleared the way for Montee Ball to step up in 2014 and assume the role of lead running back in his sophomore season, which is great news for his dynasty owners, as well as those taking him in drafts this summer.

The second-round pick from Wisconsin showcased his potential last year, but his production wasn’t helped by the presence of Moreno who had a significant share of the team’s carries, and three times as many receptions as Ball. With just 120 carries, ball rushed for 559 yards, posting a very solid 4.7 yards per carry. Provided Montee Ball stays healthy next year, his touches should at least double, and most projections have him recording a 1,000 yard season.

Another benefit of playing for the Broncos is their offensive line. They were good in 2013, but are expected to be even better in 2014 with the return of Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, who missed 14 games last season with a Lisfranc injury. ESPN’s Denver Bronco’s blogger Jeff Legwold also believes that with Clady’s return, “it will be a surprise if the Broncos are not a more efficient running team on the inside this season, especially in the scoring zone.” Not only does this benefit Ball’s fantasy stock in gaining yards on the ground, but it suggests that he may have plenty of opportunity to take the ball to the end zone.

But the biggest contributor to Montee Ball’s fantasy value is the man he’ll be sharing the backfield with – 2013 MVP Peyton Manning. Starting running backs have had success when playing with Peyton Manning. Edgerrin James, Joseph Addai and, of course, Knowshon Moreno are the main examples. Montee Ball has the opportunity to be next in line, and history certainly bodes well for him. Although he wasn’t much of a receiving threat threat last year, recording just 145 yards and no touchdowns from 20 receptions, increased playing time could also see Ball become somewhat of a threat in the passing game.

For a second year player Montee Ball’s fantasy value is sky high. In 12 team leagues, I envisage Ball being taken in the late first or early second round. His average draft postion (ADP) with all major fantasy providers according to Fantasy Pros is eleventh overall, and eighth amongst running backs. Even in the first round, Ball should be a fairly safe pick as a projected top-ten running back.

Time to play the [fantasy football] game!

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You can’t play fantasy football without a team.

With league sign-ups now open, fantasy football players across the world have been creating teams, mock drafting, and even taking part in the real things as the excitement builds ahead of the 2014 NFL season.

I’m no different.

One of the main ideas I had for this blog was to create a team, and document their progress each week as the season goes on. I still hold that intention, and can’t wait to get started!

Now there are many platforms for playing fantasy football on, and each have their own advantages. Yahoo!, ESPN, CBS Sports, and NFL.com are among the major fantasy players. In addition there are other independent sites that also run their own versions of fantasy football – some you have to pay to use, and some are free.

I’m already familiar with ESPN’s system. It’s easy to use, and has an aesthetically pleasing layout. It is also helped by having apps for both mobile and tablet, which makes it easily accessible from a range of devices. They also have one of the most comprehensive statistic databases on the web, and altogether it’s a great package. Because of this, I will be using for the fourth year running.

So now that’s out of the way, it’s time to get down to business.

For the first time, I’ll actually be running my own league. I have played in the same league for the past seasons, and plan on returning for the fourth. But that league will remain private, and instead I’ve created my own league, and I’m entering the team that I’m going to follow into it.

The League - ESPN FF

I’ve given the league the name ‘The League’ – flashy, I know. And no, it isn’t named after the television programme of the same name. The League is a standard ten-team ESPN league, with standard rules, scoring, and a standard snake draft, and the draft date has been set for Sunday, 17 August at 19:00ET (or Monday, 18 August at 00:00 GMT if you’re playing in the United Kingdom). It is open to the public, and if you would like to join, then sign up to ESPN, create a team, click here, then simply join the league.

My team is named the ‘Salford Bloggers’, the story behind which I’m sure will excite you. The Salford part – that’s because I attend the University of Salford and started up this blog as part of one of my assignments. The Bloggers part is because I am a fantasy football blogger, and making it a plural seems to be a common thing in the NFL. I assume you’re completely enthralled at this stage! If all places aren’t filled in my own league, which hopefully they should be, then I will enter the team into another league not run by myself, to ensure that the project will go ahead.

Here’s to 2014! May the best team win.

My top-five fantasy football sleepers

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So I recently covered the topic of whether or not ex-Vikings running back Toby Gerhart is a ‘fantasy sleeper’. Simply put, a fantasy sleeper is someone whose on-field production exceeds expectation, based on either draft position, or projections prior to the season. There are usually a handful of these sleepers each year, and if you are fortunate enough to have one or more on your team, then it can be as satisfying as it is surprising.

Victor Cruz in 2011, Alfred Morris in 2012, and Julius Thomas in 2013 are all classic examples of players with little to no fantasy expectation before the season started, who then  went on to be fantasy studs. The player’s don’t have to have low projections to be fantasy sleepers though. Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles in 2012 are two examples of players who have undeniable talent, but weren’t drafted quite as high as their production reflected because they were both coming off ACL injuries.

The common denominator with fantasy sleepers is value – they can all be categorised as diamonds in the rough. It is probably fair to assume that 2014 will also have its fair share of players, and here are five that I will spring some surprise.

 

1) Andre Ellington – RB, Arizona Cardinals

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A man primed for a breakout year in his sophomore season is Arizona’s 2013 sixth-round pick Andre Ellington. He racked up 652 rushing yards, and 371 yards receiving in his rookie campaign – impressive considering he was the team’s second-string running back behind Rashard Mendenhall. Since the conclusion of the 2013 season Mendenhall has retired, leaving Ellington at the top of the depth chart by default. His competition is fellow second year player Jonathan Dwyer, as well free agent pick-ups Jalen Parmele and Stepfan Taylor, so there should be no doubt’s over Ellington’s status as the number one running back in Arizona.

Ellington is primed to have a big 2014. Not only is he now the top running back on the roster, but Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians suggested that Ellington may touch the ball 30 times a game next season, with ten of those being catches.  If that is more than a mere suggestion, then Ellington will have the opportunity to delight his fantasy owners. He’ll also be running behind an upgraded offensive line that were one of the worst in 2013, and so should benefit from that. Drafting Ellington high would bring with it a risk, and he isn’t a big name. He won’t be playing on a top offense either, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fall past round six. For a player who has a chance to crack the top ten at his position, Andre Ellington could be fantastic value.

 

2) Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns

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The upcoming season gives Jordan Cameron the chance to cement his place as one of the premiere tight ends in the league. After failing to impress in his first two seasons, Cameron demonstrated some of the potential that led the Cleveland Browns to spend a fourth-round draft pick on him in 2011 by racking up 917 yards and 7 touchdowns. That may not seem all that impressive, but not only did Cameron have to deal with three different starting quarterbacks, he also had to wrestle with NFL receiving yards leader Josh Gordon for targets.

His performance last season should see Cameron have an increased role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense this year, and with the likely absence of Josh Gordon, Cameron will be the Browns’ top pass catcher. Another factor to consider is that the quarterback situation in Cleveland is still unclear. The competition appears to be between Brian Hoyer, and first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel. It is unlikely that Cameron will be playing with a top-end quarterback, which is something that will damage his fantasy stock. However, this may mean he is used as a safety blanket for whoever is under centre, which would be good for his production.

The team that Jordan Cameron is on and the situation he is in doesn’t seem favourable on the surface, and the fact that he is a tight end and not a wide receiver will only hamper his average draft position further. He may not be a pick you want to take in the first couple of rounds, but 2014 will provide Cameron with a great chance to build upon last year. He should be good for at least 1,000 yards, and his size means that he should be an effective red zone target. If he hits his potential, then Jordan Cameron may prove to be sleeper material.

 

3) Golden Tate – WR, Detroit Lions

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It may be a little odd to see the name of the leading receiver for last year’s Super Bowl champions on a list of potential fantasy sleepers. But after Golden Tate switched Seattle for Detroit, his draft stock has declined. The reason – Calvin Johnson. With the signing of Tate, I believe that Detroit have finally found a true complimentary receiver to their 2007 first-round pick. Tate should be able to help take the pressure off Johnson, because defences will also have to account for him as well.

Last year was somewhat of a breakout season for Tate, who recorded career highs with 64 receptions from 98 targets, with 898 receiving yards. Although he didn’t record elite numbers, Golden Tate showcased his ability as a playmaker, has a good yards after catch average. He will also be entering a better passing attack than the one he was a part of in Seattle. The Seahawks had the least pass attempts per game in the league, compared to Detroit, who were ranked fifth in that category. Although he may have to share the ball more with other receivers including Johnson, Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew, Reggie Bush and Theo Riddick, Golden Tate should still see plenty of the ball in Joe Lombardi’s offense.

Because he will have to compete for targets in the Lions’ offense, Golden Tate’s upside may appear to be limited. Fantasy players may also be weary of drafting him too early, as he has never topped 900 yards. This could be good news for someone to look for a bargain to play at WR3 or to use as a flex player depending on draft strategy, as Tate may be available later on than he should. He isn’t really someone you should be relying on as an every-week starter, but if he hits his potential then Tate could be a nice fantasy option.

 

4) Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

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Tony Romo is another name you may not expect to see on this list, but here he is. The signal caller for the Cowboys has been a tidy fantasy football option for a few years now, and there isn’t much reason to believe that he won’t be a safe pick in 2014. A hot topic in fantasy football circles this offseason is where quarterbacks should be drafted, with many believing that running backs and wide receivers should take priority. Aside from the elite players like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, the general consensus would suggest that most other quarterbacks will come off the board in round seven or later due to the depth of quality quarterbacks – and Tony Romo will probably be in that bracket.

If Romo’s name is available in rounds nine or ten, or he somehow slides even further down the rounds then he could be great value. He has been at the epicentre of some tragic Cowboys meltdowns, and certainly has taken a lot of flak from his own fan base. However, he is a great fantasy quarterback, and consistently puts up big numbers. Although Romo doesn’t scramble as much as other quarterbacks, he does have a great arm. As well as being behind one of the top offensive lines in the NFL, Romo has a host of weapons including Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams and Jason Witten so there is a lot of scope for Romo to have yet another big season.

He is, however, coming off of back surgery, which may put some people off drafting him, although Romo has been quoted as saying that he is “miles ahead” of where he was last year. I think Tony Romo would be a great value pick in rounds five or six, but if you gamble then he may be around even later. He should provide you with some good, if not better QB1 play.

 

5) Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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It has been dismal couple of years for former Super Bowl champion Hakeem Nicks. He didn’t live up to the hype generated in 2010 and 2011, in which the wide receiver put up two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. His level of play dropped so much last year that rumours began circulating that the Giants were looking into trading him before the trade deadline, but that never materialised and he stayed in New York for the remainder of his contract. Another concern with Nicks is that he has never managed to play a full 16 game season. As well as coming off the back of a season in which he recorded zero touchdowns, there isn’t much to be optimistic about for Nicks.

He does have a ton of natural talent though, and he had showcased it before his star began to fade. The change of scenery that Indianapolis will provide Nicks with could be enough to get his engine going once more. He should see a step-up in quarterback play, going from Eli Manning, who also had a terrible 2013, to Andrew Luck, and will be entering a more pass-heavy offense. If Nicks plays anything like the first round pick that the New York Giants intended him to be in 2009, then he could prove to be a steal.

Currently in ESPN leagues, Nicks’ average draft position is 109 overall, and he is ranked forty-fourth amongst wide receivers. There is great value to be had there, and he could slip into the last few rounds of the draft. Hakeem Nicks may well be worth taking a risk on from round ten, especially with Luck throwing him the ball.

 

Feel free to leave any comments in the comments section below!

Rookie Gems: Kelvin Benjamin

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The Carolina Panthers had a very impressive campaign in 2013, winning the NFC South with a 12-4 record before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the Playoffs. The defence was the bedrock of the team, which featured NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. Their offense wasn’t as hot. Carolina were one of the better rushing teams in the league, but they had an anaemic passing attack, which ranked twenty-ninth in the NFL.

If things couldn’t get worse for Cam Newton and company, the team lost all four of its top receivers to free agency – Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon, Ted Ginn Jr, and long-time Panthers talisman Steve Smith. The only non-running back left on the roster that had ten or more catches last year was veteran tight end Greg Olson. The loss of so many pass catchers gave Carolina’s front office a headache in the offseason, but they managed to add a couple of pieces to give their quarterback something to work with. One of those pieces was Florida State University’s Kelvin Benjamin, who they drafted with the twenty-eighth overall pick in May. The Panthers also signed former Jet and Steeler Jerricho Cotchery, wide receiver Jason Avant, and tight end Ed Dickson.

Out of all those additions, the one expected to have the biggest long-term impact is draftee Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin, who was part of the Florida State Seminoles’ BCS National Championship-winning team in 2013 is a big-bodied wide receiver, and has an 83-inch wingspan. Carolina will be able to use him as a physical mismatch against defensive backs, and his large frame could become a big target for Cam Newton in the red zone. At FSU, he also showed good strength after the catch, so he may see some short routes with potential to gain further yards after the catch.

One knock on Benjamin, however, is his speed. The first round pick doesn’t have the elite speed that other receivers do which could limit his deep threat and make it difficult for him to get separation in tight, press coverage. Benjamin will also head straight to the top of the depth chart in Carolina, so he may have more on his plate than most rookies would. Whether he can deal with the pressure and expectation put on him in his first year could also affect his production on the field. If he does perform well, then Benjamin could well become a valuable fantasy asset for his owners.

He should see a decent amount of playing time in a Panthers uniform this year, but that is more down to a lack of offensive talent than Benjamin being ready to take the leap as an everyday starter in the NFL.

In fantasy football terms, Kelvin Benjamin’s stock won’t be as high as Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans’, which means that he could slide into one of the later rounds. However, his touchdown production could be higher, due to Benjamin’s more fantasy-friendly situation. He could be great value after rounds nine or ten, and his floor should be solid fantasy wide receiver depth for use on a bye week, to bring in if there is an injury, or if he becomes more productive than one of the starters.

My 2014 projection for Kelvin Benjamin is around 60 catches for 700 yards and nine touchdowns. Here are some highlights from his time at Florida State University:

Five bold fantasy football predictions for 2014

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1) Keenan Allen fails to improve on his rookie season

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Last year was a great one for San Diego’s Keenan Allen. As an offensive rookie of the year candidate, the third round pick from the University of California had 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. Those who picked up Allen late on in their draft, or claimed him off waivers, were kindly rewarded with the seventeenth-best fantasy wideout. But I believe that his sophomore season won’t be as impressive, and predict that he will score less than the 141 points (ESPN standard scoring) that he managed last year, in 2014.

Last season was somewhat of a bounce back year for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, and Allen was one of his main targets. But whether he performs as well could depend on a couple of factors. Firstly, the Chargers signed Donald Brown in the offseason to back up Ryan Matthews. The move could see San Diego utilise their run game a little more, giving Allen less opportunity to get the ball in his hands. In addition to that, Allen will also have to compete with the rest of the receiving corps for receptions. Although he led the team in receiving yards, both Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead – who was a key part of the offense in 2013 – had more receptions than Allen did, and Eddie Royal was just as much of an end zone target as the rookie was with eight touchdowns to his name. Vincent Brown and the emerging Ladarius Green are two players who Rivers may also look to.

 

2) Colin Kaepernick doesn’t make it into the top-ten at quarterback

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I’m not sure how bold this prediction is. I’ve never been that impressed by Kaepernick – despite the fact he has taken the 49ers to the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship game in consecutive seasons. He did, however, just sign a mega-contract with San Francisco, which would suggest that the 49ers believe he can be the signal caller long-term.

He is also only entering his second full season as a starter, and since the San Francisco 49ers drafted Kaepernick, the 49ers have ranked no higher than thirty-first in passing attempts. This isn’t due to lack of receiving talent. After all, the 49ers have Vernon Davies, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin – and Kaepernick also boasts a career 93.8 passer rating. It is more because of the talent they have on the ground. In Frank Gore, San Francisco have a top-tier running back, and Kaepernick’s dual-threat style and 939 rushing yards in the past two seasons underline this. Even though the University of Nevada product may not have thrown the ball as many times as his fellow starting quarterbacks, he still managed to finish ninth in scoring amongst quarterbacks in fantasy last season – and anyone who owns him in 2014 will be expecting an increase in production.

There is also some belief that it is ‘reasonable to expect the 49ers to put more on Kaepernick’s plate in the passing game this season.’ I don’t feel that Kaepernick will be able to deal with an expanded passing game as well as the 49ers’ staff will expect him to, and it could affect his fantasy production – even more so if the passing game takes away from his rushing attack. This could, in turn, see him fall out of the top-ten.

 

3) Jimmy Graham will not be the top fantasy tight end in 2014

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It would be uncommon to find a draft in which Jimmy Graham is not the first tight end taken off the board. It would also be just as rare to see him fall any further than the second round. 2013 saw Graham average a touchdown per game, and he will no doubt be sought after by fantasy players this summer. To add to that, the tight end put up over 1,200 yards without fumbling the ball all season.

My prediction isn’t a trick statement either because, like was mentioned in a recent post on this blog, it is likely that Jimmy Graham will remain listed as a tight end in fantasy, no matter the outcome of his franchise tag designation. It is based on the outcome though. If the arbitration panel rules in the favour of the Saints, then I have a feeling that it could affect Jimmy Graham’s on-field performance. If that happens, then I could easily see another tight end stepping it up and taking that number one spot. Names like Vernon Davies, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, and up-and-comers Jordan Reed and Jordan Cameron may all give Graham a run for his money – excuse the pun.

If Jimmy Graham is prepared to throw the team under the bus and worsen an already fragile cap situation for the Saints, then one has to wonder the mental effect on Graham if things don’t go his way.

 

4) Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate will be the highest scoring wide receiver partnership in the league

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A lot of people may argue that they won’t even be the highest scoring wide receiver tandem in the NFC North, let alone the NFL. The Bears have Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery both coming off the back of fantastic seasons, and division rivals Green Bay have the one-two punch of Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Another duo of note is Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Roddy White – but their production will be reliant on health.

With the signing of Golden Tate, the Lions will be hoping they have found a true number two receiver to go behind Megatron. Both players offer different things. Megatron has the hands, height, and freakish athleticism, whereas Golden Tate is a speedy deep threat, and performs well after the catch. With Tate across from Megatron, it is unlikely that there will be many defences triple teaming Calvin Johnson. Both men are playmakers, and could combine to become the most potent WR duo in the NFL, and rack up fantasy points along the way. Johnson will pull the weight, but Golden Tate should complement him nicely.

 

5) Geno Smith will score more fantasy points than Russell Wilson

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Yes, you read that correctly. I predict that Russell Wilson, Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Seahawks, will finish below the New York Jets’ Geno Smith, who was statistically one of the worst starting quarterbacks in 2013. Smith, despite having a rocky start to his NFL career finished the season solidly and helped guide the Jets to an 8-8 finish. He wasn’t helped by a woeful offense, who’s only notable pass catcher was Jeremy Kerley. The wide receiver’s 47 receptions and 523 yards led the team.

Whilst Geno Smith was partly to blame for his numbers – his 21 interceptions a perfect example – any signal caller would have struggled to excel with the distinct lack of weapons that the Jets attempted to support their rookie quarterback with. But since the 2013 season concluded, New York have tried to address their problem. As well as signing Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford in free agency, the Jets also drafted tight end Jace Amaro, as well as wide receivers Shaq Evans, Jalen Saunders, Quincy Enunwa. They also added Chris Johnson, who is adept to catching passes out of the backfield, and Michael Vick and Tajh Boyd will provide Geno Smith with some stern competition which should help the second-year player up his game.

Unlike the Jets, the Seahawks haven’t upgraded their receiving corps this offseason. Russell Wilson’s main target last year, Golden Tate, hit free agency and signed for the Detroit Lions. They did, however, draft wide receivers Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood in May, signed breakout player Doug Baldwin to a multi-year deal, and still have tight ends Jermaine Kearse and Zach Miller. Seattle should have a healthy Percy Harvin ready for week one. But if Harvin fails to stay healthy, the lack of star receiving power in Seattle could harm Russell Wilson’s fantasy production.

Both quarterbacks are similar in that they have shown that they can not only pass the ball, but run it too. In fact, both Wilson and Smith were second and third, respectively, in rushing yards for their teams. It could also be argued that the Jets have a better offensive line than the Seahawks, which includes former Seattle right tackle Breno Giacomini.

Wilson has already proved himself as a force to be reckoned with in the NFL, but Geno Smith could defy the odds and have a really good season under center for New York, whose significant upgrade in offensive talent provides Smith with a great chance to improve in his sophomore year. In Marty Mornhinweg’s west coast offense, opportunity for the pass is aplenty, and Geno’s fantasy production should also increase –perhaps to a level that’s greater than Russell Wilson’s.

It seems unlikely, but you never know.

 

Agree or disagree with any of the predictions above? Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.