It’s not all that hard to throw some fantasy player rankings together and pretend to stand by them in June. After all, we can all switch things up over the next 2-3 months. That’s why there’s a difference between early rankings and final rankings, right?
Actually singling players out that you’re high on is a different bag, however. I already pumped out my early rankings, but this time around we’ll take a closer look at some fantasy options I’m high on going into 2014.
In relation specifically to awesome ADP (Average Draft Position) I’m finding myself targeting these guys. Some have question marks or good reason to have a low ADP, but all could present tremendous value for where they’re being taken on average. Let’s keep it to the seventh round or later and find some solid fantasy options to target in fantasy drafts this year:
Note: These ADP findings are based off of the average draft position results at Fantasy Football Calculator and operate under standard 12-team league settings.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 7th round)
Cam has finished as a top-four fantasy passer in each of his three NFL seasons. His ankle injury has healed. Why is he being drafted as if he’s suddenly going to drop-off to fantasy’s 10th best quarterback? I’m sorry, but does losing an inconsistent Brandon LaFell and aging Steve Smith really crush his value that much? Newton still has a quality tight end in Greg Olsen and reliable (albeit not spectacular) receiving options in veterans Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery. Throw in raw rookie Kelvin Benjamin, and Newton really is about where he’s always been in terms of how much his weapons scare you.
This guy just makes things happen, whether it’s with his rocket arm or elite athleticism. If there is a drop-off, it should only be slight. I think he’s probably the best overall value at quarterback right now, especially consider he absolutely had the talent to be a top-four passer and has yet to finish outside of that ranking yet in his career.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins (ADP: 7th round)
Reed is right up there with Jordan Cameron in terms of talent, meaning you could easily reach for him in the fifth round due to his athleticism, role and upside. His concussion issue robbed him of half of his rookie season last year, yet he still put up 499 yards and three scores on 45 receptions. Stretch that out over the six games he missed (seven if you count the game he got concussed in) and Reed is hovering on insane numbers. He won’t do quite that with DeSean Jackson in town, but he’s clearly being undervalued. Obviously you’ll want to consider grabbing a backup like Zach Ertz or the like thanks to his concussion history, but round seven is pretty sweet for a guy with the upside he’s offering. If you can get him later, all the better.
Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 8th round)
Obviously Wright’s value isn’t through the roof in standard leagues thanks to just six career touchdowns, but any guy coming off a career year that saw him reel in over 90 balls for 1,000+ receiving yards needs to be monitored a little more closely. There are three things to like about Wright:
1. He put up numbers while catching passes from Jake Locker.
2. He put up numbers while catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
3. He was fantasy’s 30th ranked WR last year despite scoring just two touchdowns.
If Wright could have scored just two more times (equaling his rookie total), he would have slid inside the top-25 at his position in 2013. Had he scored four more times, he would have finished as a top-20 wide receiver. That’s probably a realistic goal right there. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt made Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead into fiends last year, and his offense brings a lot of optimism to Tennessee. Wright is also a burner who hasn’t exactly been properly utilized at all times so far in his young career. Translation? Wright is an underrated talent who is being vastly undervalued, yet he’s proven he can be a very effective fantasy weapon regardless of his offense and quarterback. This is seriously a legit top-20 candidate that’s being drafted as fantasy’s 35th best option. Draft accordingly.
Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets (ADP: 8th round)
Let’s get this straight; Decker put up two straight 80+ catch, 1,000+ yard and 11+ touchdown seasons and now he’s got an even bigger role and we’re all drafting him like he’s the second coming of Santonio Holmes? Let’s get real. Decker is a big-bodied receiver who can make plays on the ball, can rack up yardage after the catch and has developed int a red-zone monster. This is a guy that even found a way to put up 612 yards and eight scores with Tim Tebow throwing him ducks.
Geno Smith and Michael Vick don’t scream elite by any means, but they don’t have to. Decker’s enhanced role and increased targets should do a solid job in balancing out the downgrade in passing talent. It’s probably safe to say he’ll see a drop in production, overall (he is going from the Broncos to the Jets, after all), but Gang Green has actually made a ton of improvements that should only help Decker.
Decker finished inside the top-10 in each of the past two seasons and he’s being drafted as fantasy’s 36th best receiver. That’s a pretty big slap in the face. His value is probably somewhere in the middle.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders (ADP: 8th round)
I know, Run DMC has burned you over and over again. It very well could happen again in 2014. After all, McFashion Show (I just coined that right now. you’re welcome) has Maurice Jones-Drew and Latavius Murray to contend with. Then again, MJD is a shell of a shell of himself, while Murray is an often injured back just like McFadden. McFadden will probably get hurt, but this time he can be had in the eight round or possibly later, where his failure won’t have your team crashing and burning.
We’ve seen the upside, plus he’s in another contract year situation. He has every reason to try to stay healthy and have his best season yet. It probably won’t work out, but there aren’t many picks in round eight or later that carry his type of upside at a position of such great value. Drafting him in round four last year stung a bit. Four rounds later in 2014? That’ll do.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 9th round)
Rudolph dropped of in 2013 thanks to horrid quarterback play, a fairly one-dimensional offense and his own injuries. That had fantasy owners quickly forgetting about his sweet 9-touchdown 2012 campaign and his 2014 ADP is understandably a paltry 9.06 on average. However, Rudolph is healthy now and Norval Turner has brought his “I make tight ends look amazing” offense into Minnesota. Suffice to say, Rudy could be looking at a career year in an offense that is catered to his strengths. Antonio Gates thrived in this offense for years, while Jordan Cameron broke out like a boss in it in 2013. Rudolph needs to stay healthy and his quarterback situation still isn’t ideal, but he’s a terrific sleeper this late in the draft.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears (ADP: 9th round)
Cutlerhas been injury prone the past three years and really hasn’t lived up to the statistical hype since he left Denver. Until last year, when he was actually fantasy’s sixth best quarterback before going down with one of two injuries. In fact, if you add his numbers with backup Josh McCown, Chicago may have had the number five overall fantasy passer in 2013. We can’t know that for sure, but what we do know is Cutler is talented, has elite weapons and has a system that clearly works. As long as he can stay on the field, he’s looking at a potential career year in 2014. It’s a risk, but in round nine, not really.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: 10th round)
Why no respect for Wilson? All he did was give fantasy owners 8th overall fantasy numbers at the quarterback position a year ago. Now with a Super Bowl under his belt, Wilson will only slowly get more unleashed in Seattle’s balanced offense. Sure, he won’t throw as much as many of the other elites, but his legs provide the value to help close the gap. Besides, he finally gets a full season with Percy Harvin (hopefully) in 2014. There is still upside to be had here for what equates to the 15th quarterback off of draft boards. Wilson deserves better than that.
Cecil Shorts III, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 10th round)
I know the Jaguars are a scary team to use fantasy players from, but Shorts is the #1 wide receiver and Justin Blackmon’s corpse isn’t hitting the field in 2014. Shorts has dealt with a few injuries (including concussions) the past two years, but he was still able to put up 700+ yards in each of the past two years, including 10 total touchdowns. With Blackmon out of the picture, he’s at least a rock solid WR3 and carries legit WR2 upside. Despite some solid promise, fantasy owners are drafting him like a 44th ranked scrub. I’m not necessarily saying you should reach higher for him, but the value is clearly amazing at his current ADP.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans (ADP: 11th round)
As we mentioned before, Kendall Wright did pretty well despite having Ryan Fitzpatrick tossing him wobblers in 2013 (90+ catches). Entering his second season coming off a solid 800-yard rookie year, Hopkins is being just a tad undervalued. Andre Johnson is threatening to holdout, too, which could help Hopkins’ value even more if he’s thrust into a bigger role. Either way, Hopkins was an emerging talent a year ago and is locked into the number two receiver spot. Houston will be a run-first team, but they also might be bad and coming from behind a lot. Hopkins finished a hair outside of the top-50 as a rookie, yet is still being drafted as that same borderline top-50 guy as fantasy’s 49th best receiver. The paper doesn’t scream elite production, but this is still a talented receiver who carries upside. In the 11th round, that’s what we like to call a steal.
Chris Ivory, RB, New York Jets (ADP: 11th round)
Chris Johnson wants to run for 2,000 yards again. Who doesn’t? In reality, he’s nearing the end and that probably isn’t going to happen. What’s more realistic is that he splits carries with Ivory or even gets hurt and gives way to Ivory. One way or another, Ivory is being immensely undervalued. Even as a straight up handcuff, Ivory carries more upside than several guys going ahead of him. He proved last year he’s no slouch with over 800 rushing yards and a 4.6 yards per carry average, as well. We can’t know for sure how the Jets will roll out the running game, but a 26-year old Ivory is being written off all too easily. He’s a tremendous value pick that could help you out later in the year.
Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams (ADP: 11th round)
The same story goes for the rookie Mason, who is behind the slower, less versatile and overall fairly underwhelming Zac Stacy. I see that Stacy is talented enough, but in the grand scheme of things I think he’s a pure volume runner that started to wear down near the end of 2013. If he breaks down or is ineffective, Mason could be a mega steal here in round 11. For now he’s merely a handcuff with Flex upside, but the value is certainly there.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 12th round)
Manziel likes to party and he’s a small guy that may or may not completely translate to the NFL. He also is a fantastic improviser, elite athlete and confident play-maker. He did lose Josh Gordon for the year (assumed), but he still has a strong stable of talented running backs, a stout offensive line and an elite tight end in Jordan Cameron. Cameron will operate as the team’s true number one receiver, with veterans like Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins rounding out roles. But Manziel isn’t about his weapons. He’s about unpredictable nature and pure talent. His division makes him a risk, but the upside is there. Even if he’s a pedestrian passer, moderate rushing numbers could still vault him into top-15 discussion. Better than average passing numbers could make him a top-10 phenom.
I compare Manziel’s fantasy value to Robert Griffin III coming into the league. Wouldn’t you know it – Manziel even has RG3’s offensive coordinator – Kyle Shanahan. I see the risk, and I raise you the possibility. Oh, the possibility.
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants (ADP: 12th round)
It was only a year ago that we were all-in on David Wilson, taking him as early as round two thanks to his explosiveness and immense upside as New York’s top tailback. Then he lost fumbles and hurt his neck, and our fantasy pride was never the same. That could all turn around in 2014, though, as the only thing keeping Wilson from a bounce back season is a vastly overrated Rashad Jennings. Jennings was indeed impressive last year with the Raiders, but he was previously awful and seemingly washed up before 2013, so it’s tough to trust him. With only him and a neck clearance in his way, Wilson remains one of the better high upside value picks in the draft. Getting him a remarkable 10 rounds later than you did last season surely eases the bruising, as well.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (ADP: 13th round)
Manning was trash a year ago. There’s no getting around that. However, so was Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and just about everyone else in New York. The G-Men let the overrated Nicks walk, drafted Odell Beckham, improved their talent at running back and changed their offense. There is still the risk that the 33-year old Manning is on a downward slide, but there is also the very real possibility that he simply endured a down year. If he can get back to even his 2012 form (he ranked 15th), he’ll beat his current value by a mile. If he can possibly find anything close to his 2011 form (6th best fantasy passer) again, he’ll be the steal of the draft.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers (ADP: 13th round)
Show me where it’s written in stone that Ladarius Green is the new Chargers’ starting tight end and Gates is dead. It’s true that Gates slowed over the second half of the year, as he averaged just three catches and 27 yards per game. However, in that same stretch, Green endured a four-game span to end the year where he caught exactly one ball. The passing of the torch is coming, but Gates was still fantasy’s #9 tight end and was fourth among tight ends in targets (113). It’s not likely he experiences a career resurgence suddenly, but he did play in all 16 games last year and will be starting again. Falling off to the 16th tight end off the board in fantasy drafts feels a bit rash.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 14th round)
Last, but not least, is Justin Hunter. He came into the league as a raw rookie in 2013, yet still hauled in four touchdowns and recorded an impressive 19.7 yards per catch. That big play element and red-zone value won’t be going away, so the trick will be seeing if he can further develop as a receiver and get more consistent. He seemed to be developing a bit of a rapport with Jake Locker early in the year, so there’s a chance that chemistry blossoms. He’s still raw and a risk, but in the 14th round he’s definitely worth a shot.
*Photo credit – Mike Morbeck via Wiki Commons.