As we inch closer and closer to the national holiday that is the start of the NFL regular season, we’re also smack dab in the middle of draft season. We here at Major League Fantasy Sports have done our best to give you loads of information so you can make the most informed decision when you land on the clock. The picks are your own, so make sure you are completely confident with who you are selecting to be on your team. None of the research you do is in a vacuum and you should never draft or avoid a player simply because one writer or another told you to. But if you’re on the fence about a guy, consider us your tiebreaker. I fully expect to be right on every one of these calls, an unrealistic goal, but a goal nonetheless. Should I turn out to be wrong, hold me accountable for it and unleash your fantasy furor on me with the rage of… well, I guess an angry Mike Singletary makes sense.
That’s what this is all about. Finally, after weeks of rankings madness, I get to put my stamp on a few guys I’m either all in on, or will probably have nothing to do with. Moment of truth time. I’ll be right or I’ll be wrong. Or I could be kind of right. I could start out being wrong and then be right. I could be right up until the point he gets hurt, which would make me wrong. Or I could stop going through all the wonky possibilities and get to what you’re really here for… names.
I’ve always been a “get the bad news out-of-the-way first” sort of fella, so this week I’m putting my stamp on some names unlikely to find their way on my roster. Notice, I didn’t call this a “Do Not Draft” list and I didn’t say I’m “avoiding these players at all costs”. I can’t stand blanket statements like that. We’re talking about value in this and everything draft-related. If there’s a player I don’t find to be a good value relative to where he’s being drafted by the consensus, then he’s probably not going to land on my team. But if that same player drops four rounds in my draft, suddenly the value proposition has changed and I might consider him at that point. It’s a fluid situation.
I have only one rule when it comes to someone I will absolutely positively never draft on my team ever: Never draft the kicker of your favorite NFL team to your fantasy team. Sorry, Dan Bailey. You’re great and all, but it’s the worst feeling in the world to have to root for your team to kick field goals (long ones at that) as opposed to scoring touchdowns. Learned that lesson the hard way. Everyone else is fair game, but odds are the following players will not be a part of my Week 1 roster. I’m just not willing to pay the sticker price for their services:
QB: Peyton Manning, DEN - I know what you’re thinking before you even think it, and you’re wrong. You’re assuming I’m going to drop the standard “don’t draft a QB early” line. You’re waiting for a “quarterback is deep and you can hold off until later” spiel. Sorry to disappoint, but that’s not where I’m coming from at all. If you feel the need to spend a first or second round pick on a QB, go right ahead. I’m not stopping you nor will I attempt to convince you otherwise. I’m perfectly fine grabbing an elite signal caller at the top of the draft to secure the position.
My problem is with who is being selected as that elite signal caller. Peyton Manning had a phenomenal and record-breaking 2013, there’s no denying that. We all know regression is coming so it’s just a matter of what size of a step back you are expecting. I’m not crazy about the Broncos swapping out the paper mache defenses of the NFC East for four games against the vaunted NFC West, but that’s not enough on its own to have me on an anti-Peyton tip. I could absolutely see him tossing another 40+ TDs. So why do I have him second on my QB rankings?
I don’t. He’s number three.
If there’s one thing I believe in when it comes to draft strategy, it’s the mantra that you can’t win your league early in the draft, but you sure can lose it. I want safety in my top picks, and Manning just doesn’t give me that warm fuzzy feeling like he used to. I remember the struggles he had with his ankles late in the year. For as much as I like Montee Ball’s outlook this year, his pass-blocking deficiencies do worry me. And when the season ends, Manning will be almost 39 years old. I get that Peyton is other-worldly at the quarterback position (for my money, he’s the greatest to ever do it), but how long do I want to bet that he stays on the field while continuing to post these obscene numbers? I understand the play, but I’ll take what I believe are the sturdier commodities in Brees and then Rodgers before spending a top-10 pick on Manning (and yes, I realize Rodgers missed significant time last year – color me not worried for 2014).
RB: Reggie Bush, DET – The more I look at the ADPs for top backs, the harder it is for me to pick one out that I really find as being egregious. There’s no one in the top 12 or 14 that I look at and really dispute with all that much vigor. I do find it hard to believe that Eddie Lacy is still going after Marshawn Lynch in many drafts, but that’s just me picking nits more than anything else. Once we get past that top dozen or so, things really open up and Reggie Bush’s name in the mid to high teens just doesn’t sit well with me.
I feel bad saying that, too. Bush helped push me over the top in a couple of leagues last year and was a stud RB2 for the majority of the season. Last season, however, is last season, and a recent Foot Locker spot reminds us that with greatness comes a short memory. Don’t let sentimentality push Bush higher up the draft board than he deserves. He faded a bit down the stretch last season, failing to reach 70 total yards in three of the Lions’ final six games. For all the talk of backs hitting that ever-so-dangerous age-30 wall, let’s not forget that Bush is creeping up on that number at 29 years old himself and has always carried with him a durability concern. But the biggest pitfall to owning him will come from his very own backfield mate.
As Bush fell off at the end of 2013, Joique Bell came on strong, finishing the campaign with 19+ carries and 125+ total yards in three of his last five games, including a 10-catch effort in the penultimate game of the season against the Giants. For as unique a skill set as Bush provides, Bell is actually the more versatile back as his size allows him to run more successfully between the tackles and in short yardage situations without sacrificing much in the receiving department. I will thoroughly admit I love Bell’s talent, but probably not even as much as the Lions do. When they locked up Bell to a two-year deal this offseason, they actually gave him more guaranteed money than they did his counterpart. If we’ve learned anything in sports, it’s that money talks and there’s no way Detroit gives him that much money without intending to turn a profit on their investment.
So good luck trying to justify the discrepancy in their ADPs. Reggie Bush is costing owners a fourth round pick to acquire while Bell can be had late into the seventh. I wouldn’t go as far as to outright swap these draft positions, but I think the community is two rounds off on each of these backs in opposite directions. Some quick math will tell you that makes Bush a sixth-rounder and Bell a fifth-rounder and that’s exactly how I see it. The running back you want to own from the Motor City this year is Joique Bell, not Reggie Bush.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, ARI – Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend. While you may look at Fitzgerald’s 2013 and see him as the #16 WR, I see a player who has posted two sub-1,000 receiving yard seasons after being a mortal lock for that production throughout his prime. I was willing to give him a pass on the down year in 2012 with all the QB juggling going on in Arizona, but he didn’t bounce back to the level I was hoping for. If you want to kick and scream about his 10 TD redeeming his value, go right ahead. Personally, I don’t care for my WR2 being so touchdown dependent when Fitzgerald only found the end zone 18 times the previous three seasons and was the only WR in the top-20 last year not to record 1,000 yards.
Just outside that top-20 was Fitzgerald’s teammate in the desert, Michael Floyd, and he did eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2013. Floyd established himself as a legitimate threat opposite Fitzgerald and his performance gave the Cardinals enough confidence in him to let fellow WR Andre Roberts walk in the offseason. His emergence quietly gives Arizona one of the best receiving duos in the game behind such combos as Marshall/Jeffery and Jones/White. Floyd scored just one less fantasy point per game than did Fitzgerald despite registering just half of the touchdowns.
This year, that distribution is going to even itself out. Teams will continue to pay more attention to Fitzgerald, giving Floyd even more opportunity to shine. I could easily see a scenario where they are both in that 7-8 TD range, but I’ll give the edge in yards to Floyd. Both guys are borderline top-20 options at that point, but only one of them will you be able to acquire at that price. If you’re looking to roster a Cardinals WR, skip Fitzgerald in the fourth and wait for Floyd in the late-fifth or early-sixth.
TE: Jordan Cameron, CLE – A trendy sleeper for some, I already know someone in my league will pull the trigger on Cameron long before I think to do the same. The tantalizing prospect of being the #1 option on a Josh Gordon-less Browns squad will have drafters reminiscing about the first two games of last season, when Cameron tallied 14 catches for 203 yards and one TD. In my primary league, I enjoyed the spoils of his opening month but found myself getting more and more frustrated with his lack of production as the fantasy playoffs neared and made the call to deal him. Despite his explosion against the Patriots in Week 13, I still felt good about the move considering Cameron only crossed the 70-yard plateau twice after Week 4 and scored just two touchdowns in the season’s final three months.
Part of my excitement in drafting Cameron last year came with the Browns’ addition of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. Known for getting the best out of the tight end position in the past, Turner immediately helped elevate Cameron’s potential to be a playmaker in Cleveland as many projected he would. But Turner has moved on from the Dawg Pound and now calls Minnesota home (meaning you can probably guess which young TE I’m high on this year). Toss in an unstable QB situation in which both Hoyer and Manziel have looked erratic in the preseason and there’s just too much risk for my liking.
The other factor working against Cameron is the plethora of options available after he is gone. It’s almost guaranteed that he will be one of the top-6 tight ends off the board in your draft, but there are about five guys who I am enticed by that are all going after Cameron, some by three or four rounds. Greg Olsen should be one of, if not, the primary option in Carolina. Dennis Pitta and Jordan Reed offer substantial upside after injury-plagued campaigns a year ago. The aforementioned Kyle Rudolph has all the makings of being this year’s Jordan Cameron. And if you’re really set on waiting for a TE, I love the potential of Zach Ertz in Chip Kelly’s system. With this much talent at the position, bypass Cameron for one of these names and spend that mid-round pick on a valuable WR or RB instead.
That’ll do it for this week, but I’ll be back next week with a much more positive spin. I’ll give you my must-have draft targets and back it up with plenty of analysis and opinion. If you disagree with any of the picks I just gave you, feel free to bring a strong argument to the comments, along with any other players you’re weary of in 2014.