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!


Is new Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart a fantasy sleeper?

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I recently came across an article on by Adam Rank, listing his 11 fantasy sleepers for the 2014. Also included in the article were the top ten sleepers predicted by NFL writers Michael Fabiano, Marcus Grant, and Jason Smith. Rank, Fabiano and Grant all had something in common, in that they believe Jacksonville running back Toby Gerhart will be a fantasy sleeper this year – or in Grant’s case, the fantasy sleeper after ranking him number-one on his list.

Gerhart will be entering his fifth year as an NFL player, and his stats don’t reflect any quality of note. In his four years with the Minnesota Vikings, the former second round pick has amassed 1,305 yards on the ground and has scored a combined total of eight touchdowns – both rushing and receiving. But people do believe the talent is there, and he is the favourite to take the Jaguars’ starting running back spot which was vacated by Maurice Jones-Drew.

One thing which hasn’t helped Gerhart so far in his professional career is having Adrian Peterson to compete with. Aside from the end of the 2011 season when he saw more of the pigskin after Peterson went down with an injury against the Redskins, Gerhart’s chances have been fairly limited. In that same season, the then-sophomore managed career high totals of 531 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns from 109 touches, and 23 receptions. Last season, Maurice Jones-Drew had 803 yards from 234 rushing attempts, and a further 314 yards receiving in only 15 starts for the Jaguars. If Gerhart gets a workload similar to that, then he will have the opportunity to be a very productive fantasy player – if his 2011 season and potential is anything to go by.

The competition for the Jaguars’ starting running back role will be between Gerhart, Jordan Todman, and Denard Robinson – who can line up as both a running back and a wide receiver. Todman and Robinson will probably be used as change-of-pace backs, with the likely competition being for second place on the depth chart, rather than first. The Jaguars also drafted running back Storm Johnson. Although after being picked in the seventh round, he isn’t expected to make any immediate impact.

But will all the hyperbole surrounding Gerhart transfer into a productive season? Whilst he is now in a more-than-ideal situation in Jacksonville, he will behind a subpar offensive line. Sports on Earth writer Mike Tanier recently ranked the Jaguars’ line as 31 out of 32, bettering only the Baltimore Ravens – and they didn’t fare any better with Pro Football Focus, who also graded the Jaguars as having the worst run blocking offensive line in 2013. In comparison, PFF rated the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line as the sixth-best in the league last season. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the former Stanford Cardinal will be hit a lot more, and may have to work harder for his yards on the field than he did wearing purple.

However, he has recently drawn comparisons to Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch – most notably from himself – thanks to his power running style and build. Even with a poor offensive line of their own, the Seahawks managed to win a Super Bowl, and Lynch put up 1,257 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 16 regular season starts. It may be a struggle, but Gerhart could still find a lot of success behind a bad line.

He will also be playing on a rebuilding team, which could impact the back’s fantasy value. The one knock that this could have on his game is limited touchdown potential. The Jaguars aren’t expected to be a high-scoring team in 2014, so while Gerhart may be a big help in moving the chains – especially with his ability to generate yards after contact – he may not get to see the end zone as much as his owners would like, or is projected. But Gerhart may get more touches with Chad Henne under center, whose main targets will be Cecil Shorts, as well as rookies Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson. There will be no Justin Blackmon to throw to, who was suspended indefinitely back in November.

There may be a significant risk in taking Toby Gerhart early on. Although he has been in the NFL for a while, he is still an unproven player, and it is hard to clarify his ceiling. The situation he finds himself in will excite his fantasy owners, and the potential for a productive season is there. Whether he is a viable fantasy RB1 is unclear, but at worst he should be a solid RB2. The good thing about Gerhart is that he will most probably be available in later rounds, minimising that risk that he carries. Bigger names will likely come off the board before him, barring a reach, but expect his pre-draft stock to continue rising.

Jimmy Graham to remain a tight end in fantasy football?

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The football world is waiting for the decision on whether Jimmy Graham gets franchised tagged as a tight end or a wide receiver. Not only will it have financial ramifications, but it could also cause a ‘ripple effect’, paving the way for other players to lodge the same complaint against their teams and the franchise tag.

Whether Graham is tagged as a tight end or wide receiver could also have an impact on fantasy football – specifically whether the player is listed as a wide receiver or a tight end. Fortunately, ESPN and fantasy reporter Field Yates was able to shed some light on this.

So even if everything goes as planned for Jimmy Graham, it appears that his fantasy status will not change. Graham should be able to be played in either the TE or WR/TE slots.

No-shon Moreno?

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Before a snap had even been played last season, there wasn’t much hope for Knowshon Moreno. In the two years prior to 2013, the Georgia product had seen himself lose the starting running back spot in Denver to Willis McGahee, get benched, and then – to make it worse – deactivated. It was only when McGahee got placed on injured reserve that Moreno was reactivated and saw the field once more. In 2011 and 2012, Moreno played a combined 15 games, and was unable to build on strong rookie and sophomore seasons, in which he ran for 1,726 yards and found the end zone on 17 occasions across the two years.

ESPN ranked Moreno as the forty-third best running back ahead of the 2013 season – 19 places behind Denver’s newly drafted Montee Ball. In ESPN leagues, the average round that Moreno was drafted in was round 13. But those who took a gamble on the fifth-year player earlier on, or were lucky enough to pick him up in a later round or off of waivers, were rewarded handsomely with the year’s fifth-best fantasy running back.

As part of the record-breaking 2013 Denver Broncos offense, the former first round pick rushed for over 1,000 yards, caught 60 passes for 548 yards, and scored 13 touchdowns. His production in Peyton Manning’s system helped the Broncos reach Super Bowl XLVIII, and left a lot of fantasy owners extremely satisfied.

Coming off the back of that impressive 2013 season, the Denver Broncos chose to let Moreno hit free agency rather than re-sign him; and after a couple of weeks of waiting for offers, Knowshon swapped Colorado for Florida, signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Miami Dolphins. He now sees himself fighting for the starting spot in Miami, with incumbent starter Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas.

The competition for the role was intended to be open, although it was largely expected that Moreno would take it. However, it appears that it may not be that easy for the former Georgia Bulldog, with Miller seeing the share of first-team reps throughout OTAs. The Dolphins may elect Miller as their starter for week one against the Patriots, but there is also the possibility of a dual-threat rushing attack in Miami, as they look to improve upon last season where they had the twenty-sixth best rushing offense.

Although that was largely due to the play of the running backs, they weren’t helped out by the offensive line, who allowed a franchise record 58 sacks, as well as dealing with off-the-field drama. The Dolphins did add Pro-Bowl tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith in free agency, and selected tackle Ju’Wuan James in the first round of the draft – all three of which should help shore up the line. But if Moreno and co. suffer a similar fate, then his fantasy value could take a significant hit.

Another thing to consider when assessing Knowshon Moreno’s fantasy outlook, is that Ryan Tannehill is not Peyton Manning. Moreno was also utilised as a pass catcher during his last year in Denver and his receiving statistics may have been assisted by Manning throwing to him. It is unlikely that he will be catching as many balls with Tannehill under centre, although if the Miami quarterback starts to struggle, or fails to move his play up a gear, then the Dolphins’ coaching staff may be inclined to rely more heavily on the run game, and so Moreno’s fantasy value could actually end up benefitting from extra touches.

Although Lamar Miller may be leading the way so far, there is still plenty of time this offseason for Knowshon Moreno to turn it around, and take the starting spot in Miami. If he does start, then Moreno would be great value as an RB3, or as bench depth at worst. He could also be a safe choice as an RB2, although he probably won’ post spectacular statistics. It is unlikely that Moreno will replicate his 2013 form this time around, so it would be a good idea to avoid drafting him early on, or to expect that he will be a top-five back again. He can rack up points as the Dolphins’ lead rusher, and he also has pass catching ability that Miami can utilise. Both of these attributes could help to improve the rushing threat of the team, and see Moreno’s owners get a tidy fantasy return.

Is Tony Romo a fantasy no-no?

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Tony Romo is infamous for his ill-timed decisions, and his seemingly constant failure to perform when it matters most. In his eight seasons as the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback, Romo has led the team to the Playoffs three times, winning just one game. He has drawn recent criticism from a former NFC East rival in the shape of retired ex-Redskin London Fletcher, and has been a polarising player for quite some time.

Despite his shortcomings for the Cowboys, Tony Romo has been a valuable fantasy starting quarterback over the past few seasons. Since 2009, he has averaged 237.74 fantasy points, according to’s fantasy scoring, and has finished the season as a top-10 fantasy quarterback four out of five times. That includes 2010, a season in which Romo played only six times, recording only 99.10 points. If that season is regarded as an outlier and is removed from calculation, then Romo’s point average since 2009 jumps up to 272.41. His lack of late-game heroics may hurt the Cowboys, but by the end of the game quarter Romo has usually done enough to appease his fantasy owners, and establish himself as a fantasy asset.

But will Tony Romo continue to be as productive in 2014?

Dallas’ main problem is their defense. They were ranked dead last in yards allowed last season, and have already lost arguably their best defensive player this offseason after cutting DeMarcus Ware. Although they were shaky on that side of the ball, Dallas remained competitive and in the Playoff hunt until the final game of the regular season, which was largely down to their offense, as well as the faltering seasons of their fellow NFC East competitors.

Romo still has a lot of offensive firepower surrounding him, including the likes of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray, who can run as well as catch. Dallas have a decent offensive line, and Romo’s height, coupled with his quick release and arm strength mean that he has no trouble getting the ball out of his hands.

A good offense means that Romo should still fare pretty well in 2014. In the last three seasons alone, the former undrafted free agent has thrown for 12,915 yards and 90 touchdowns, in addition to throwing 39 interceptions and fumbling 10 times. By the start of the 2014 season, Romo will be 34, so there could potentially be a decline in his play. But with the talent he has surrounding him, the former Eastern Illinois Panther should have no problem getting at least close to his recent totals.

It does depend on, of course, whether or not he can stay healthy. After picking up an injury in week 15, Romo had to have season ending back surgery; although it appears that he should be healthy in time for OTAs. However, it isn’t the first time the player has had injury issues. In 2010, Romo missed 10 games as the Cowboys went 6-10, and again failed to reach the Playoffs. Another thing that may hurt his draft stock is the emergence of quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck and Cam Newton as top fantasy performers, as well as the potential that players such as Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have to be productive fantasy players.

The general feeling you get when you look at Romo’s average draft position is that it is based on the perception that he has failed to carry the Cowboys at crucial moments, as opposed to his overall play and fantasy statistics. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Tony Romo’s average draft position over the span of five years has been 56.12 overall, and 8.2 amongst quarterbacks. Last season, his average draft position fell to 92.5, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that slide continue this year.

He might be a later-round steal. This isn’t to suggest that he will still be hanging around with the fodder at the end of any fantasy drafts, but having Romo as one of the top quarterback possibilities on a draft board would allow greater flexibility to select better offensive players in other positions, before selecting Romo at a later stage. Tony Romo probably won’t be a top-five quarterback in 2014, but his track record suggests that he will be more than a solid starter for any fantasy team, who should still be on the board after at least three rounds.

What would the signing of Chris Johnson do to the fantasy value of the Jets’ backfield?

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With the release of running back Chris Johnson from the Tennessee Titans a couple of days ago, plenty of reports are linking the seventh-year pro with the New York Jets. The Jets already have two established running backs in Bilal Powell, and Chris Ivory, who the team traded their fourth round pick for in last year’s draft. That duo combined for most of the Jets’ 2,158 rushing yards – the sixth best total in the league – over the course of the season.

Despite the duo’s play, both Ivory and Powell lack the same home run threat that Chris Johnson has, which comes mainly from his blistering speed. Johnson, who still holds the record for the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, scored six touchdowns last season – more than both Powell and Ivory combined – and has at least 1,000 yards rushing in each of his six seasons with the Titans, including one year where he managed to run for 2,006 yards.

At the moment the landing spot for ‘CJ2K’ is still unclear, because his release isn’t official until tomorrow afternoon. However, if he does sign for the Jets, then Johnson will surely have a significant impact on the fantasy value of the Jets’ backfield.

The former first-round pick would almost certainly go to the top of the Jets’ depth chart, or at worst would fight Chris Ivory for the starting job. Fullback Tommy Bohanon and Alex Green would be non-factors. Their fantasy impact is likely to be little, if anything at all. Mike Goodson could potentially be cut. Not only would Johnson be an upgrade on Goodson, but the Jets could replace an injury-prone player who has had off-the-field issues, with someone who has missed just one game in his career.

That would then leave Johnson, Ivory, and Powell as viable fantasy selections. With the addition of Chris Johnson, it would be no surprise to see Bilal Powell’s fantasy value fall dramatically. The former Louisville Cardinal was the thirty-seventh ranked fantasy running back in 2013, playing in every game for the Jets. He wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game either, and the addition of Johnson would probably reduce his playing time. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go undrafted in fantasy drafts, becoming a waiver pickup if either of the running backs ahead of him go down with injury.

In comparison, Chris Ivory ranked two placed higher than Powell, despite playing in one less game and dealing with injury issues. It would be easy to envisage Ivory sharing touches with Johnson, a similar role which he played in 2013, where he eventually became a valuable fantasy back in the second half of the season. If he excels in the role, then he may be a great late-round selection, though would carry some obvious risk if it didn’t work out for the former Saint.

2013 saw Chris Johnson outperform both of the Jets’ lead running backs, finishing as a top 10 player at the position. Another 1,000 yard season may have been surprising, as some feel he has lost his step. But it is impressive, considering he managed the feat behind a shaky offensive line. New York should have a better line than Tennessee next season, which may give Johnson a better chance of rushing for more yards and touchdowns than he did the year previous; although if he has to share touches with two other backs in a pass-heavy West Coast offense, then his production may decline. Still, expect Johnson to be drafted in the mid rounds – probably closer to the top than the bottom.

Projected Fantasy Draft Top 10 – Part 2

Click here for Part 1.


#5 – LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles, RB)

LeSean McCoy - Top 10

Under Chip Kelly, LeSean McCoy ran for over 1,600 yards last season and was the most valuable fantasy back behind Jamaal Charles. At the young age of 25, McCoy still has plenty left in the tank, as well as five years of experience behind him. The Eagles are a young, improving team, and even though Nick Foles played well towards the end of last season, they will be looking to McCoy to take pressure off the quarterback. ‘Shady’ should rack up a lot of fantasy points for his owners.


#4 – Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions, WR)

Calvin Johnson - Top 10

After breaking the record for the most receiving yards in a single season in 2012, Calvin Johnson fell short of repeating that feat in 2013, although he only played in 14 games. He may not have been as productive as his fantasy owners would have anticipated last year, although he managed to grab 12 touchdowns – seven better than his total the year before. Megatron will be entering his eighth season in the NFL, but he has showed no signs of slowing down and should easily be selected in the top-10 of every fantasy football draft.


#3 – Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings, RB)

Adrian Peterson - Top 10

Although his 2013 wasn’t anywhere near as impressive as his 2012 season, Adrian Peterson still put up solid numbers with 1,266 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games. He played though some of the season with a nagging groin injury, and had to deal with the death of his son part-way through the campaign. Peterson has the potential to do better than last year and has undoubtable talent, but age and workload may begin to take their toll on the former first-round pick. However, he should be a sound investment as a high-first round pick in any draft – his value just depends on whether or not he stays healthy throughout the season.


#2 – Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos, QB)

Peyton Manning - Top 10

Peyton Manning had one of the greatest seasons any player has ever had last year, yet a second Super Bowl ring still eluded him. He had talent and depth surrounding him all over the offense. Although Manning is aging and the Broncos look likely to lose both Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker in free agency, the former Colt will almost certainly provide better fantasy value than any other quarterback in the game next season.


#1 – Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs, RB)

Jamaal Charles - Top 10

The number-one fantasy back in 2013 could well have a repeat performance in 2014. His dual-threat ability saw him rack up over 100 yards of total yardage per game, in addition to 19 touchdowns last term. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go as one of the top three selections in every fantasy draft this summer.


Images of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Manning by Jeffrey Beall via Creative Commons. Images of Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson by Mike Morbeck, and image of LeSean McCoy by Matthew Straubmuller via Creative Commons.