1. Peyton Manning (DEN): I expect some regression in the number of passes thrown, but he still has an elite core of receivers and will continue to be insanely efficient.
2. Aaron Rodgers (GB): He was on pace for his first 5,000 yard season before an injury forced him to miss time. Look for two young pieces in this offense (Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy) to continue to progress, thus making this Packers offense one of the most feared in the league.
3. Drew Brees (NO): One of the most consistent Fantasy quarterbacks, Brees lost Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason. That being said, don’t count on much regression, as the skills have yet to diminish and New Orleans has three pass-catchers that are 25 years of age or younger.
4. Matthew Stafford (DET): He’s ranked in among the Top 3 in passing yardage in three consecutive seasons, the only quarterback to have done so. The volume of pass attempts limits his downside, while the best wide receiver in the game along with two versatile running backs and the addition of Golden Tate give him as much upside as he has ever had.
5. Andrew Luck (IND): Will Trent Richardson bounce back? He may not need to, as Luck made significant strides in protecting the ball and continues to be the best volume passing mobile quarterback this side of Rodgers. He could move up a spot if both Hakeem Nicks and Reggie Wayne stay healthy.
6. Jay Cutler (CHI): My favorite value pick based on other expert rankings, Cutler is ready to lead an explosive Bears offense that showed positive signs last year. His gunslinger mentality may drive NFL purists crazy, but there is no better mindset from a Fantasy perspective.
7. Nick Foles (PHI): He essentially traded DeSean Jackson for Darren Sproles, Jeremy Maclin, and a full season under the tutelage of Chip Kelly: and people are concerned that he lost a weapon? Foles was lethal in the short passing game last year and his possession targets have only improved.
8. Cam Newton (CAR): Yikes, where to start? Offseason ankle surgery is a major concern for a running quarterback, not to mention that he struggled throwing the ball deep down the field last season and will be without his primary big-play receiver this year.
9. Matt Ryan (ATL): Losing Tony Gonzalez is going to hurt on third downs and in the red zone, but the Falcons still figures to be a pass-first offense that features a very strong receiving core. The increased involvement of Jacquizz Rodgers, his rush attempts and targets have increased every season, should help spread the defense and allow Matty Ice to distribute the ball effectively.
10. Robert Griffin III (WSH): A change in offensive schemes, a new toy in DeSean Jackson, and being another season removed from a devastating knee injury, RGIII is in an entirely new situation. I worry that he can’t throw the ball down field in an efficient manner, but his upside makes him a Top 10 player with significant upside.
11. Tom Brady (NE): Tommy Terrific is going to continue to win the Patriots games, but his days of dominating Fantasy matchups are over. The team around him has potential, but they also have as much injury downside as any core in the NFL. If you told me he’d have a healthy Gronk for 16 games, he’d move ahead of Newton.
12. Tony Romo (DAL): I’m expecting a monster campaign out of DeMarco Murray, something that may give Romo a “less is more” type of Fantasy season. He’s got two consistent options in Dez Bryant/Jason Witten and has a up-and-coming game-breaker in Terrence Williams. It’s easy to forget that two of his last three seasons have seen him throw 3.1 touchdowns per interception.
13. Colin Kaepernick (SF): He might be the game’s most gifted dual threat, but I worry that his team’s offense is content to bleed the clock and win ugly. This division scares me, and while I like his receiving weapons, the volume of attempts simply isn’t there. He’ll have his monster games, but the fact that he had ten games with fewer than 200 passing yards last year is a downside that most quarterbacks in the pass-happy NFL don’t have.
14. Phillip Rivers (SD): Rivers was able to provide strong Fantasy value last season, but can he repeat his league leading accuracy? Probably not, and without an elite completion percentage, the clock-eating Chargers offense is a concern. Keenan Allen is the real deal, but other than that, this offense doesn’t scare me. The schedule is brutal, especially for a signal caller with limited upside.
15. Andy Dalton (CIN): Good plays add up faster than negative plays in Fantasy, and that is why the Red Rifle is worth a look. Sure, he makes bad reads and throws into double coverage. So? He has an elite target in A.J. Green and force feeds him and should benefit from a projected increase in snap count for Giovani Bernard.
1. LeSean McCoy (PHI): The addition of Darren Sproles doesn’t scare me one bit, as Chip Kelly will find a way to get his best player the ball in space as often as humanly possible. I like that the Eagles have an effective passing quarterback who won’t run much and play in a division that plays limited defense.
2. Adrian Peterson (MIN): When I’m picking in the first round, I want a player I can count on, and there might not be a safer player in all of Fantasy. The Vikings coaching staff has made it known that they are looking to utilize AP more in the passing game, giving him upside in addition to his written in stone elite rushing numbers.
3. Jamaal Charles (KC): The number one running back in 2013 had a monster season that reflected a best case scenario for league’s most explosive player. I would caution against expecting another 70-catch season, as he average 37.4 yards per 16 games prior to last season. That being said, the Chiefs offense relies on Charles, and his ability to break the long run makes him a good bet to exceed 2,000 total yards.
4. Matt Forte (CHI): The top three backs will see the occasional, if not consistent, eight-man front, something Forte will never have to worry about. The knock on the Bears versatile back used to be his lack of involvement in the red zone, but he had 40 percent more carries inside the 10-yard line than AP or McCoy last season. He averages 60 catches per 16 games and should build on a 2013 season that saw him tally career highs in rushing yards, receiving yards, and TDs.
5. Eddie Lacy (GB): The steal of the 2013 Draft, Lacy proved to be the perfect fit for an explosive Packers offense. No pass-catching RB runs as hard as the Alabama product, and given the Packers unique ability to spread the field with four and five receiver sets, look for Lacy to avoid the “sophomore slump” much like he did defenders in his rookie campaign.
6. Marshawn Lynch (SEA): Over the last three seasons, Beast Mode has averaged 1,592 total yards and 13 touchdowns. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed of the elite backs, but his hard-nosed style and the conservative offense gives him as little downside as any back in the league.
7. DeMarco Murray (DAL): The Cowboys seem destined to take a little bit off the plate of Tony Romo and Murray would stand to be the primary beneficiary. Consider this: he and Adrian Peterson both moved the chains 59 times last season, but AP carried the rock 62 more times.
8. Doug Martin (TB): How quickly we forget just how good the Muscle Hamster was two seasons ago. The Buccaneers improved their quarterback and offensive line situations this offseason, giving a healthy Martin every chance to rediscover his 2012 form. He struggled against elite run defenses last season, but the schedule projects as much more favorable this season, which should vault Martin back into the RB1 conversation.
9. Le’Veon Bell (PIT): He went through his ups and downs as a rookie, but the Steelers have no choice but to lean heavily on the versatile 22-year-old. I’m buying the improvement I saw late last season (five-plus catches in three of his final five games and a rushing score in four of those five games) and feel strongly that the Steelers give him at least the 22-plus touches per game that he saw in 2013.
10. Montee Ball (DEN): A couple of costly fumbles clouded an otherwise solid rookie season. In general, I trust Peyton Manning to put his teammates in a great position to succeed, and Ball is plenty talented enough to take advantage. He averaged nearly six yards per carry in his final five regular season games with ten-plus carries and Knowshon Moreno is now in Miami.
11. Giovani Bernard (CIN): BenJarvus Green-Ellis is going to continue to see a decline in involvement, putting the dual-threat Bernard in a great spot. He totaled 1,209 yards and eight touchdowns last season despite running the ball on less than 27 percent of his snaps on the field.
12. Alfred Morris (WSH): Here is where I believe the DeSean Jackson acquisition could be felt the most. Defenses will need to respect Jackson’s ability to stretch the field and Pierre Garcon’s remarkable 2013 season suggests he will demand attention. The bruising Morris isn’t a sexy pick, but consistent workhorse backs (100 total yards or a touchdown in 69 percent of his games) are difficult to find.
13. Arian Foster (HOU): This might be the last call of Foster, but there is value to be had from the former top two Fantasy pick. Despite battling various injuries, Foster managed his highest average yards per carry in three seasons, and given that he will turn just 28 this August, there is reason to think there is still gas in the tank. Ben Tate is no longer in town and quarterback guru Bill O’Brien needs a strong run game to give his signal caller room to operate.
14. Zac Stacy (STL): In my opinion, Stacy is a prime example of a running back being shifted up the rankings because of the perceived value of the position, just like quarterbacks in the NFL draft. Stacy scored just once on 84 touches against his division and with an early bye, it is entirely possible that he begins to wear down when his Fantasy owners need him most.
15. Andre Ellington (AZ): Much like Stacy, I hate drafting running backs that have to play the 49ers and Seahawks, but Ellington possess’ game-breaking potential. No player averaged more yards per carry that this rookie last year and his touch count is projected to spike. Greater than 20 percent of his carries went for at least ten yards, and even if that number drops, he still has as much upside as any RB2 on the board.
16. C.J. Spiller (BUF): Don’t laugh, but with the addition of Mike Williams, the Bills have some weaponry on offense. Spiller remains the focus, and with Fred Jackson another year older and a year of experience under the belt of E.J. Manuel, the team’s top playmaker could easily regain his 2012 form of 1,700 yards and eight scores.
17. Ray Rice (BAL): His off the field concerns and awful 2013 season have Fantasy owners panicking and for good reason. That being said, Rice is still just 27 years of age and has an impressive track record of Fantasy production: four straight seasons, prior to last year, with at least 1,500 yards and 60 catches.
18. Frank Gore (SF): I love his consistency and his team’s devotion to getting him the ball, but his age and lack of explosive plays makes this as high as I can rank him. He’s a safe bet for 1,200 yards and 8-10 touchdowns, making him the ideal selection if you rolled the dice early.
19. Pierre Thomas (NO): He was an elite pass-catching back last year, and that was with Darren Sproles playing alongside him. Thomas proved capable of picking up consistent yardage on the ground, providing me with optimism when it comes to his touch count. Look for a second consecutive season with 1,000-plus yards and at least a handful of scores.
20. Ben Tate (CLE): We finally get to see what Tate can do, as he is expected to be the lead dog in the Browns backfield. I like his talent, but he doesn’t project as a versatile back, and that’s an issue in an offense that led the league in passing attempts last season … yea, you read that right.
21. Shane Vereen (NE): If I had faith in him running the ball in an effective manner, he’d skyrocket up this list. Vereen is an impossible matchup out of the backfield, but that is essentially all he is counted on doing. The Patriots routinely rank in the Top 10 in total rushing attempts and have a handful of possession receivers that do essentially the same thing as Vereen.
22. Reggie Bush (DET): What do the Lions have in Bush? Is he Darren Sproles, or is he a true versatile back that can run hurt defenses in a multitude of ways? I’m leaning toward the former, and in an effort to keep the explosive Bush healthy, it is possible that he isn’t Detroit’s most valuable Fantasy back this year.
23. Chris Johnson (NYJ): Has there ever been a running back that has recorded at least 1,400 yards in the first six seasons of his career that has received more hate than the artist formerly known as CJ2K? Chris Ivory is in the picture and the Jets struggled to block, but that’s quite the resume for a fringe RB2.
24. Steven Jackson (ATL): Age may have finally caught up to the one time elite running back, and while he is no longer the home-run hitter he once was, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value here. Project his 2013 numbers for a 16-game season and you’ll notice he would have notched roughly 1,000 yards and nine scores. Not bad considering he had a two game stretch with 18 touches for 21 yards.
25. Joique Bell (DET): There aren’t many goal-line vultures that can pop out of the backfield and record a big play in the passing game, but that is exactly what Bell brings to the table. His upside is aided by Bush’s potential to miss time or assume more of a Darren Sproles role, but he proved last year that he can produce viable numbers even if Bush leads the team in carries.
26. Ryan Mathews (SD): In his first 16-game season, Mathews produced 1,444 yards and seven scores in a surprisingly strong season out of the Chargers offense. He should still be considered a somewhat fragile option that doesn’t score a ton, but he will get the bulk of the carries in San Diego, and that has value. Danny Woodhead is going to limit his upside, however.
27. Shonn Greene (TEN): I simply don’t think he’s good at football. Not even a little. Still, he projects as a workhorse in an offense that has one of the better run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. He might not average more than four yards per carry, but could score 8-10 times and carry the rock 275 times.
28. Stevan Ridley (NE): He struggled a bit with confidence last year, but he is still the lead back in an offense that believes in establishing the ground game. Ridley has scored 18 rushing touchdowns over his last 27 regular season games and is still just 25 years of age. A five-game stretch in the middle of last season where he averaged 4.62 yards per carry and reached paydirt seven times earned him the lead role entering this season.
29. Trent Richardson (IND): He averages just 3.3 yards per carry for his career and is a member of a crowded backfield in a pass-first offense. Those aren’t the ideal circumstances, but the Colts did give up their first round draft pick for him and, fair or not, that probably gives him the first chance to win this job. He’s not great, but he can catch passes and is built to gain the tough yards near the goal line.
30. Maurice Jones-Drew (OAK): I’m not sure what is scarier: a running back that has missed ten games over the last two seasons or one who will be joining the Raiders organization. MJD was averaging 4.63 yards per carry for his career prior to last season and catching nearly three balls per game, a strong skill set that won’t disappear immediately. Darren McFadden is still looming, but Jones-Drew has sleeper appeal should he earn the starting role.
1. Calvin Johnson (DET): No reason to get cute at the top, as Megatron is simply the best around. He’s been targeted 413 times over his last 34 games, giving him massive opportunity to go with absurd talent. It’s terrifying to think that he only caught three passes thrown over 30 yards down field.
2. A.J. Green (CIN): As mentioned with Andy Dalton, the Bengals will only go as far Green will take them … and they know it. It seems that every other pass is thrown in his direction and Fantasy owners wouldn’t have it any other way. He scores with consistency and has elite physical tools, a combination few players in the league possess.
3. Alshon Jeffery (CHI): Jeffery is going to surpass Brandon Marshall is the superior receiver sooner rather than later and it could happen this year. He is only going to get better, but this could be his peak Fantasy season, as Marshall still demands plenty of attention for opponents.
4. Demaryius Thomas (DEN): In the same fashion that Roddy White and Marques Colston were rock solid options for years on end, Thomas is the second-safest WR in the league. His upside isn’t that of Jeffery, but there is something to be said for virtually no downside.
5. Dez Bryant (DAL): The exact opposite of Thomas is Bryant, a fiery receiver who has elite physical tools but had more games with 45 or fewer yards last year than 100-yard games. He’s not going to help you every week, but his upside to single handedly win you your matchup is worth the gamble, especially if Terrence Williams can pull some of the defensive attention to the other side of the field.
6. Randall Cobb (GB): He’s trending upward and, in my opinion, is the Packer receiver you want most. Cobb is Green Bay’s most productive possession receiver, but he also possesses game-breaking ability that can save an otherwise unproductive day.
7. Brandon Marshall (CHI): My love for Jeffery doesn’t mean that Marshall can’t produce yet another solid campaign. He’s averaging over 102 catches over his last eight seasons, not to mention three of his top four touchdown seasons have come with Jay Cutler calling the shots.
8. Josh Gordon (CLE): Much like you can’t forecast the massive Jamaal Charles performance against the Raiders last season, it is impossible to count on Gordon totaling 774 yards and five touchdowns in a one month span. That being said, his blend of size and speed makes him a tough cover for any defense. This is a bad football team, and while I think that will drag down his value a bit, he is still a WR1 with tremendous upside.
9. Vincent Jackson (TB): This Buccaneers offense won’t be as bad as they were last year, giving Jackson every opportunity to record his sixth straight (minimum six games played) 1,000-yard season with at least seven scores. Again, not the pick that’ll grab attention at your draft, but also one that won’t hurt your team.
10. Julio Jones (ATL): His talent would rank him in the Top 5, but this is a difficult situation for him. Not only is he coming off an injury, he is joining an offense that lost Tony Gonzalez and is counting on aging stars in Roddy White and Steven Jackson. Jones is still a WR1, but I’m expecting some rust and plenty of double teams in the early going.
11. Jordy Nelson (GB): Nearly a quarter of his receptions over the last five seasons have gone for at least 20 yards, a large enough sample size to dismiss it as luck. He has a great connection with Aaron Rodgers and should continue to thrive as the primary deep option in Green Bay with James Jones moving on.
12. Pierre Garcon (WSH): The addition of DeSean Jackson and the projected increase in workload for Jordan Reed might make another 113-catch, 184-target season a long shot, but that doesn’t mean he can’t produce WR1 numbers. Use his Redskin per game averages and you’ve got a reasonable projection for 2014: 95-1,200-6.
13. Larry Fitzgerald (AZ): Carson Palmer isn’t perfect, but he is good enough to get Fitzgerald the ball where Fantasy owners want him to: in the red zone. For the fifth time in his career, Fitz reached the end zone ten-plus times, and last year it came on 136 targets, his fewest since 2006.
14. Wes Welker (DEN): The touchdowns are likely to regress, based on his career patterns and the unlikelihood that Peyton Manning has a second consecutive all-time great season, but the catch count very well could approach triple-digits. I’m not worried about the concussion issues and believe Welker is a WR1 in PPR formats once again.
15. Andre Johnson (HOU): The quarterback situation is beyond frustrating and the struggles to consistently find paydirt is equally as maddening, but his Fantasy stats are impossible to argue with. He hasn’t caught fewer than 101 balls in a season in which he played all 16 games in a decade, consistency that earns him this rank. Pay for the catches and understand that the touchdowns are unlikely.
16. Antonio Brown (PIT): Ben Roethlisberger simply isn’t going to ever quarterback a team with a preseason WR1 for me. He’s very good at what he does, but that’s not typically a Fantasy friendly style. Without a proven secondary receiving option opposite Brown, I think he regresses closer to his standard 70-1,000-5 stat line.
17. Keenan Allen (SD): This kid is the real deal, but I’m not banking on Phillip Rivers leading the league in completion percentage again. In fact, Rivers’ completion percentage dropped when throwing to Allen, something that rarely happens to a true number one receiver and a good quarterback. Five of Allen’s touchdowns came in a three game stretch in which he caught just eight passes, covering up the fact that he scored just three times on his first 82 targets last year.
18. Victor Cruz (NYG): Is Eli Manning any good? Even in an all-time bad season by his quarterback, Cruz managed 998 yards and 73 catches, numbers that are phenomenal given Manning’s struggles. A mild bounce back from Manning and an increased workload for Cruz as a result of the departure of Hakeem Nicks should land the Salsa Man as a WR2 in 2014.
19. Michael Crabtree (SF): Some may call him mediocre, but I’m not one of them. Colin Kaepernick has all the confidence in the world in Crabtree, something that should allow the team’s top receiver to replicate his 2012 season (85-1,105-9). Maybe sit him against the Seahawks, but there are 14 other games in which Crabtree can help you.
20. Marques Colston (NO): The attack will look a bit different this year in New Orleans than in years past, but Colston is still the team’s most talented receiver and it is still a pass-heavy attack. He had his worst season of his NFL career (minimum 12 games played), and still produced 75-943-5. That’s not a bad floor for a fringe WR2.
21. Roddy White (ATL): Copy and paste the Colston recommendation. He missed time for the first time in his career last year and Julio Jones is now the top target in town, but White isn’t disappearing that quickly. Don’t forget that he averaged 102-1,345-8 from 2010-2012.
22. Percy Harvin (SEA): You’ll notice that Russell Wilson didn’t make my Top 15 quarterbacks, but the play-making Harvin has the type of skill set that is Fantasy friendly, even with a conservative offense. Look for the Seahawks to find ways to get him the ball, especially with Golden Tate now in Detroit.
23. T.Y. Hilton (IND): Reggie Wayne will be back in the fold and Hakeem Nicks has joined the squad, but Andrew Luck clearly has faith in Hilton and should continue to look his way with consistency. In two seasons, all Hilton has done is average 14.7 yards per catch and record a 30-plus yard reception in over 45 percent of games.
24. Cordarrelle Patterson (MIN): He has the potential to be Percy Harvin, but with more size. Competent quarterback play would be nice, but with ten carries over the final five games last season and an upward trending target rate, the Vikings want him to put up big numbers.
25. Jeremy Maclin (PHI): Missing an entire season will hurt him from a physical standpoint, but he should have a great grasp of the Chip Kelly system that is as Fantasy-friendly as any in the league. Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy should allow the Eagles to threaten from sideline to sideline, thus allowing Maclin to create favorable matchups in the middle. His first 1,000 yard season is very much in play this year.
26. Julian Edelman (NE): A possession receiver for Tom Brady is a good place to be. He may not catch 100-plus balls again, but he is the lone Patriot receiver that can be trusted who doesn’t have an injury history. In short, I trust Brady with the Fantasy fate.
27. DeSean Jackson (WSH): Robert Griffin III struggled in a big way throwing the ball downfield last season. Is that because he didn’t have a deep threat or because he simply lacks touch? It’s probably a combination, but I don’t see Jackson repeating last year’s stat line of 82-1,332-9.
28. Emmanuel Sanders (DEN): I think Sanders is a good player, but that doesn’t really matter. He is slotted to take over for Eric Decker in a Peyton Manning led offense that elevates the value of everyone involved. He will be the fourth most valuable pass-catcher in Denver, but I could see a scenario where a successful Fantasy team has him as their second best receiver.
29. Torrey Smith (BAL): Joe Flacco’s ability to throw the deep ball has been overstated, but he threw enough of them to give Smith strong value. With a healthy Dennis Pitta and the newly acquired Steve Smith, the Ravens burner won’t get 139 opportunities to haul in 65 passes like he did last year.
30. Mike Wallace (MIA): After complaining about his involvement, Wallace came around at the end of last season and produced a reasonable stat line of 73-930-5. For the record, that’s a career-high in receptions but a career-low in touchdowns. He’s a boom or bust play on a week-to-week basis, but he deserves a roster spot.
31. Cecil Shorts (JAX): The franchise in Jacksonville isn’t going anywhere fast, but the targets are going to be there, thus allowing Shorts end 2014 with a similar stat line as 2013 Torrey Smith. His drop rate has been alarmingly high, so if he can correct that, he has the potential to be a low end WR2.
32. Golden Tate (DET): He’s a really good player and we may finally get the chance to see what he can do in a Fantasy-friendly format. As the number two receiver in a pass-first offense, I think his value receives a bump from being the number one receiver for Seattle.
33. Dwayne Bowe (KC): I believe he still has the same skills he possessed when he was putting up monster numbers just three years ago, but this offense simply isn’t built around a game-breaking receiver. Alex Smith has his limitations, and while the Chiefs can win games with him, I’m not sure I’m relying on a passing game with such low upside for my Fantasy team.
34. Eric Decker (NYJ): Geno Smith or Michael Vick? My money is on Smith, but the potential for bouncing back and forth between inconsistent passers is scary regardless of who opens the season as the starter. Fantasy value in the neighborhood of the pre-Manning era (600-700 yards and 6-8 touchdowns) seems to be a reasonable projection.
35. Riley Cooper (PHI): He will assume the deep routes on an offense that is going to run a ton of plays. That role comes with WR3 value, but the fact that he is, at best, the fourth option in this pass game has tempered by expectations.
36. Kendall Wright (TEN): Even bad offenses score on occasion. The ground game will be a pounding style, thus subjecting them to many eight man fronts. Wright isn’t a great NFL talent and he will be playing with a bad quarterback, but single coverage gets exposed on occasion, and Wright should have plenty of opportunities.
37. Terrance Williams (DAL): Playing alongside Dez Bryant is a great place to be, but consistency is what I tend to target, and the Cowboys rarely offer that. I worry that Murray will have a monster season and the Bryant/Witten tandem will see the majority of looks. Williams will produce when given the opportunity, however, and should be drafted if nothing else as a bye-week filler.
38. Michael Floyd (AZ): Andre Ellington and Larry Fitzgerald are explosive, giving Floyd the opportunity to fly a bit under the radar. He had six games with less than 35 yards receiving last year, but by averaging 16 yards per catch, the breakout potential is there.
39. DeAndre Hopkins (HOU): If you want to talk about “tools”, I think Hopkins has it. If you want to talk about quarterback play, Houston doesn’t have it. The Texans seemed to forget about the rookie at times last season, as 26 percent of his targets came in two games, and until they figure out the quarterback position, Hopkins will be a diamond waiting to be uncovered,
40. Brian Hartline (MIA): He is always underrated and Ryan Tannehill is only getting better. He racks up yardage and finally stumbled into the endzone multiple times last season, the first time he’s done that in four seasons. He will be on every one of my teams this year, and I recommend you pick him a round early in the very late rounds of your draft as well.
41. Reggie Wayne (IND): Older players with injuries are scary. Older players with injuries on teams that bring in a young receiver are even scarier. I think Wayne can produce a solid stat line, but his name value is going to result in him going too early.
42. Anquan Boldin (SF): He’s more important to the 49ers than to Fantasy owners, but he is a low downside option that you can count on to do the dirty work. San Francisco isn’t going to throw the ball a ton, and Boldin won’t repeat last year’s 1,179 yards, as Crabtree figures to be healthier and more involved, but he has totaled 1,000 yards or seven touchdowns in seven of his last nine seasons.
43. Rueben Randle (NYG): The Giants were willing to move on from the Hakeem Nicks era because they have faith in Randle. His statistics essentially doubled in his sophomore season and another increase should be in store as a result of his new role. Rolling the dice on this Giants offense is risky, but the potential reward outweighs the risk for this 23-year-old.
44. Mike Evans (TB): Josh McCown was able to take full advantage of having a physically imposing, young receiver playing opposite of a veteran stud last year in relief duty for the Bears and now he has the opportunity to do it again in 2014. Evans will have his growing pains, but you can’t teach that size, and what McCown did last year is enough for me to roll the dice on this rookie.
45. Mike Williams (BUF): Sleeper alert. E.J. Manuel will improve with a NFL season under his belt and I love the fact that Williams will be reuniting with his college coach in Doug Marrone. It was only one season ago in which Williams tallied 996 yards and nine scores, and that was with Josh Freeman playing quarterback.
46. James Jones (OAK): Jones is about to realize how good he had it from a quarterback perspective in Green Bay over the last seven seasons. Matt Schaub is going to be the Raiders quarterback this season and he never found a way to get Andre Johnson ten touchdowns (Jones caught 14 in 2012 from Aaron Rodgers). If you roster him, you’re banking on him scoring a touchdown when you play him, as he has never been a high yardage player (662 yards per 16 games for his career).
47. Jarrett Boykin (GB): Could he fill the James Jones role in this offense? Sure. I’m not betting on it, primarily because I think the Packers pound their other options. Boykin has the stature to be a real deep threat, but Jordy Nelson is better at doing essentially the same thing. Select Boykin as a bye-week filler because he plays on an elite offense, with the thought that should Nelson get injured, Boykin becomes a weekly starter.
48. Tavon Austin (STL): At this point in the draft, I’m willing to roll the dice on upside. Austin, as he proved at times last year, has the ability to break the game open. Neither he nor the Rams offense has any consistency, so you need to understand that you are trying to catch lightening in a bottle.
49. Hakeem Nicks (IND): He has an injury plagued past and has yet to live up to his potential, but he is still 26 years of age and will be in the best offense of his career. His struggles last season (0 touchdowns) were correlated to poor quarterback play, something I don’t think he has to worry about in Indy. A season with 800 yards and four to six touchdowns is very much in play, albeit with health downside.
50. Marvin Jones (CIN): Can Andy Dalton continue to build on his improving numbers? If so, Jones is going to be a steal in many a Fantasy draft. Jones had a monster four score game last year, but that wasn’t the only time we heard from him, as rangy receiver reached paydirt ten times in 2013. He is an upside play that could develop into a nice receiver should Dalton mature in his fourth NFL season.
1. Jimmy Graham (NO): Despite getting shut out in a game against the Patriots and totaling 45 or fewer receiving yards in five other games, Graham still managed to catch 34 more passes on 60 more targets for 365 more yards and three more touchdowns than Vernon Davis, the second highest fantasy scoring tight end last year.
2. Julius Thomas (DEN): He is as physically imposing as anyone in the NFL and the experience gained last year should help polish this raw athlete. Peyton Manning clearly believes in Thomas, and if it wasn’t for the plethora of targets in Denver, he’d have a good chance to challenge Graham for the top spot.
3. Rob Gronkowski (NE): There is no doubting the talent here … it’s all about the health. The risk is significant, and the main reason he isn’t my second ranked tight end, but given the depth at the tight end position, why not take a shot on him in the fourth round and hedge your bet with another tight end in the 11th?
4. Greg Olsen (CAR): The only tight end in the league with an active six year streak where he has hauled in at least five touchdowns, Olsen is a player that you can bank on. Heck, he could be the Panthers number one pass-catcher this year.
5. Jason Witten (DAL): I always preach that opportunity is the best factor when looking to evaluate Fantasy potential and few tight ends are targeted as often as Witten. Dez Bryant demands attention and should Terrence Williams continue to improve, the middle of the field will once again be Witten’s to roam: 80-plus catches and 1,000 yards is a good bet … again.
6. Vernon Davis (SF): An athletic freak that has the potential to score as many touchdowns as anyone at the position, Davis has the potential to jump as high as third on this list. That being said, I don’t trust this San Francisco offense to put the ball in his hands enough to make that happen. He’s my favorite value play based on where I’ve seen him ranked in the overall ranks.
7. Jordan Cameron (CLE): I mentioned earlier that the Browns threw the ball more than any other team last year, and should that trend continue, Cameron will be targeted with consistency. In his six games with at least nine targets, he totaled 473 yards and seven touchdowns.
8. Kyle Randolph (MIN): I obvious don’t love the pass game in Minnesota, but if you’re going to wait on a tight end, you mine as well make it a common red zone target. The former Golden Domer is averaging a score every other game over his last 30.
9. Dennis Pitta (BAL): It was only one season ago that Pitta averaged over 11 yards per reception and scored ten times in 20 games as the Ravens made their Super Bowl run. An injury cost him the first three months of last season, but he appeared healthy in December and should be 100 percent entering this season. Torrey Smith and Steve Smith will challenge defenses down the field, allowing Pitta plenty of freedom across the middle.
10. Jordan Reed (WSH): He averaged five catches per game last year, displaying good chemistry with Robert Griffin III. It is possible that the addition of DeSean Jackson eats into his targets, but we are talking two very different skill sets and I would tend to think Reed stands to benefit more from the expected regression of Garcon than he does to lose from the addition of Jackson.
11. Martellus Bennett (CHI): There are a lot of mouths to feed in Chicago, something that should result in Bennett serving more as a chain-mover than explosive option. Linebackers will struggle to deal with his size/speed combination, but defenses cannot pay too much attention to him because of his three teammates that can score from anywhere on the field.
12. Delaine Walker (TEN): In his first season with the Titans, Walker totaled 60 catches and six touchdowns, nearly matching the cumulative numbers he produced in his last three seasons in San Francisco (69 catches and six scores). He’s not much of a threat down the field, but with a dicey quarterback situation, he is the type of player that fits this offense well.
13. Antonio Gates (SD): His bounce back season was nice, but I’m not sure it’s repeatable. As mentioned, I like the Chargers offense to regress a bit, and the emergence of Ladarius Green could further cut into Gates’ production. He’ll turn 34 in June and is coming off a 77-catch season that saw him score just four times, his lowest touchdown total in a decade.
14. Charles Clay (MIA): Did you know that he was targeted more than Julius Thomas last season? I’m buying the heavy involvement, and while nearly 86 percent of his receptions were fewer than ten yards down the field, that’s plenty of opportunities for a versatile 25-year-old.
15. Heath Miller (PIT): He has missed time lately, but Ben Roethlisberger loves his safety blanket, and that isn’t going to change. For his career, Miller has caught 78 percent of the passes thrown his way for 11.3 yards per reception while scoring once every three weeks. He is what he is, and that is enough if you wait until the late rounds to fill your TE slot.