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Friday, August 15, 2014

2014 Fantasy Football Sleepers and Busts

Personally, I am not a big fan of the terms "sleeper" and "bust". I think there's a certain connotation to those terms that the every day fantasy football players misconstrues. I prefer the term "undervalued" and "overvalued". Every football player has value, and good drafting comes down to knowing where that values lies. You may personally have a distrust for Arian Foster or Doug Martin or DeMarco Murray, but if these players are sitting in the 4th round of your 16 team draft, you would pick them up immediately. If, however, you have the 6th pick in your draft, the value may not be there for you for any of those players. But that being said, The Internet loves the terms "sleepers" and "busts" so those are the terms I will be using throughout this post. Here is my personal list of players who I think are undervalued (aka "sleepers") and are overvalued (aka "busts") as well as players I overall love and kind of hate:



Robert Griffin III (WAS)

Truthfully, RG3 is probably appropriately valued. Both ESPN and Yahoo! have the Washington QB ranked as the 7th best QB, and he's 6th on my personal board. However, I just want to go on record to say that I absolutely love Robert Griffin the Third this year. While you may think he's a "mobile" quarterback because he's run before and because he's Black (you racist), but he's actually a really good passer and just a sub-par runner (That's why he's always getting hurt). RG3 now has Jay Gruden has his head coach. Gruden is not only responsible for making Andy Dalton a top 5 fantasy QB in 2013, but he's stated that there will be very few designed runs for his quarterback. A lot of people might be weary of RG3 this year because he's coming off of an atrocious 2013 campaign; however, Griffin was the 5th best fantasy QB in 2012 and all reports say he's fully healthy this year whereas he was obviously hurt last year. Gruden is going to throw, throw, throw and Griffin has one of the best receiving corps in the game with Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, and Jordan Reed. I think RG3 is going to be a beast in 2013.

Andrew Luck (IND)

A man who is ranked behind RG3 according to some sites (Yahoo!) is a man who I personally have ranked as the 5th best quarterback this year- ahead of the man who went 2nd to him in the 2012 draft. From a real life perspective, I think Luck is a special, special talent. He's probably the 2nd or 3rd best QB prospect of all time behind John Elway and maybe Peyton Manning, and he'll only be 25 coming into the 2014 season. I just think Andrew Luck is going to get better and better as he gets further into his NFL career. ESPN's Numbers Never Lie did a great segment about why Andrew Luck is going to take a huge leap forward this year. From a fantasy perspective, Andrew Luck was the 9th best fantasy QB in 2012 and the 5th best fantasy QB in 2013- and I think he's only going to get better. 

Johnny Manziel (CLE)

I absolutely need to clarify my position on Johnny Football. I currently have Manziel ranked as my 16th best QB behind Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Andy Dalton. While recent history suggests QBs drafted in the first round like the aforementioned RG3 and Andrew Luck can be great fantasy football players, I don't truly believe Manziel will be in that class- at least not yet. I personally didn't like the pre-draft scouting reports I saw on him, and he is not having a very good training camp so far. However, the reason I have Manziel on the "sleepers" list is because I think he is a must-own if you decide to be the last person to take a QB in a 12 team league or deeper. Personally, I'm going to be one of the first people in my league to draft a quarterback, but if you are not going with this strategy, you need to draft a handful of QBs- one of which needs to be Manziel. The non-zero chance that Manziel becomes a top 10 or even a top 5 fantasy QB means he needs to be one of the players you take a chance on assuming he hits. I think if you draft Manziel, Jay Cutler, and 3rd QB of your choosing in a deep league, at least one of them will be fantasy stud for you.


Peyton Manning (DEN)

Last year, Peyton Manning had a fan-fucking-tastic season. He had a season anyone who has ever played quarterback dreams they could have. However, his 2013 season was an outlier season, and you should never pay for an outlier season. Of course Peyton Manning is not going to throw 55 touchdowns in 2014, but history suggests he's not even going to throw 40. 4 for 4's John Paulson recently tweeted about QBs who threw over 40 touchdowns and the regression that occurred the following season. He Tweeted:

Pre-2013, 6 QBs have thrown 40+ TD passes in a season (avg 45.7). The following year they averaged 32.8. (Used '09 for Brady due to inj.) 
04 Peyton 49 (28), '07 Brady 50 (28), '11 Brees 46 (43), '11 A-Rod 45 (39), '11 Stafford 41 (20), '12 Brees 43 (39), '13 Peyton (??)
The price to acquire Peyton Manning is extremely high this year, and it's a price I'm not willing to pay. I'd rather pay a little bit less to get Aaron Rogers or Drew Brees and get the same (or possibly better) production.

Matthew Stafford (DET)

From a real life perspective, I don't think Matthew Stafford is all that great of a football player. As a Chicago Bears fan, I've seen Stafford play a handful of times in his career, and I've seen him play poorly against some weak Bears and Packers defenses. I've seen Stafford miss a wide open Calvin Johnson a handful of times. I know the addition of Golden Tate should help, but I (probably irrationally) don't think it will. Further, I have no idea why Stafford is ranked ahead of guys like RG3 and Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck was a better fantasy QB than Stafford in 2012 and in 2013, and I can't see Luck being worse than Stafford in 2014. While Stafford was better than RG3 last year, I not only think RG3 returns to his 2012 form (where he was better than Stafford), but I think RG3 is in a much better situation. I personally have Stafford ranked as my 7th best QB so I'm obviously not TOO down on him, but I can't fathom putting the Lions QB in my top 5 like what Yahoo! and ESPN have done.

Matt Ryan (ATL)

I fully embrace that my hatred of Matt Ryan is irrational. But that being said, Yahoo! has Matt Ryan ranked WAY too high. They have the Falcons quarterback ranked as the 6th best QB. Even ESPN is looking at them saying "WTF dude?!". ESPN has Ryan ranked 11th and I have him ranked 12th. Having Matt Ryan barely outside of your top 5 is absurd. The highest Matt Ryan has ever been was 7th back in 2012. Even though I may not personally like Matthew Stafford, I rationally understand the ranking of him. I have no idea what Yahoo's rationale is for Matt Ryan. At most Matt Ryan has to be your 8th best QB behind Peyton, Rodgers, Brees, Newton, Luck, Stafford, and RG3. Despite Ryan having Roddy White and Julio Jones to throw to, the Atlanta Falcons under head coach Mike Smith is a run-first team that refuses to open up the passing lanes. That limitation means Matt Ryan will be a good, but not great fantasy QB.



Alfred Morris (WAS)

A lot of a player's perceived value comes from what he did last year, however, you should look at how a player did the year before and how he has performed throughout his entire career, as opposed to just one year. That's why I absolutely love Alfred Morris this year, because his value is tied into his "poor" 2013 campaign while people are discounting his excellent 2012 run (pun intended). In 2012, Alfred Morris was the 5th best running back- ahead of C.J. Spiller, Jamaal Charles, and Frank Gore. In 2013, Morris' production dipped a tad as he ended up as the 15th best RB. Most sites are treating Morris' 2013 as the norm and completely discounting his 2012 season. ESPN has Morris ranked 12th and Yahoo! has Morris ranked 13th. I personally have Morris ranked 8th, and if push came to shove in a snake draft, I'd probably draft Morris ahead of my 6th and 7th best RBs (Foster and Lynch, respectively). 

A lot of the reason Morris was not a top 10 RB last year, is because he got Shanahan'd (Why is this not one of your new words Oxford Dictionary? Get your shit together). In 2012, Morris rushed the ball a total of 335 carries, but that number dropped significantly to 276 in 2013. Morris also had 13 touchdowns in 2012 but only 7 in 2013. He should have had at least 10 touchdowns, as he was vulture'd THREE times by Roy Helu when the Redskins played the Chicago Bears. Morris had 19 carries for 95 yards that game, but Helu got the goal line/red zone carries. This year, Morris can't get Shanahan'd because Jay Gruden is now his head coach. While Gruden loves to throw the ball, I think that will do wonders for Morris' fantasy value. Not only do I believe that Alfred Morris will be the Redskin's primary running back in 2014 and not have his touchdowns get vulture'd, but I think Gruden's pass happy offense will be beneficial for Morris and he'll stay on the field longer and be on more offensive possessions per game.

Bishop Sankey (TEN)

I love ESPN's Fantasy Focus Football podcast with Nate Ravitz and Matthew Berry. It's one of my go-to podcasts for entertainment and sometimes advice. On that podcast, they love to skewer Sankey claiming he's being drafted because of his situation and not because of his talent. Well, that's true to an extent, but 4 for 4's John Paulson (a man who is MUCH smarter than you or I or Matthew Berry or Nate Ravitz) did a little bit of digging to historically see how rookie running backs have performed given the situation Sankey seems to be in. Paulson looked at all rookie running backs who were the very first RB drafted and who had a clear path to playing time. He found that, on average, those rookie running backs put up numbers that would have been the equivalent to the 12th best running back in 2013. Sankey is currently ranked as the 20th best RB by Yahoo! and the 30th best RB by ESPN.

Ray Rice (BAL)

When a player like Ray Rice has been so good for so long, you generally tend to discount a season like his 2013 campaign as a mulligan. However, sometimes players just break down. Running backs have a short shelf-life in the NFL, Rice has a lot of carries and mileage on his legs thanks to the Ravens deep play off runs recently, and the scouting on him last year seemed to confirm that Rice was done. Rice's 2013 campaign looked more like Shaun Alexander and Chris Johnson than just "one of those seasons". While in my heart of hearts I believe that Rice is done, my head disagrees. For starters, not only did Rice have a terrible YPC in 2013, so did Bernard Pierce, the other Ravens RB. If Rice had a terrible YPC, but Pierce had a good or OK YPC, that would lead me to believe Rice is done. But with both RB's having a terrible YPC, that leads me to believe the offensive line was just atrocious. Not only did the Ravens improve their offensive line in 2014, but former Texans HC Gary Kubiak is the Ravens OC now, and he's an absolute wizard when it comes to offensive lines and running backs. Even if Ray Rice is truly done (which I don't think he is), Gary Kubiak will make him a fantasy superstar once again.


DeMarco Murray (DAL)

I want to start off positive with DeMarco Murray. I really like DeMarco Murray, I think he's a really good football player, and when healthy, he's an amazing fantasy option. Last year, Murray finished as the 7th best RB, so I understand why ESPN and Yahoo! rank Murray in their top 10. Coming into the 2012 season, I personally had Murray in my Top 10. However, there is one major knock on DeMarco Murray and it is the reason I can't have him in my personal top 10, and why you can't either- DeMarco Murray just can't stay healthy. Even in his best fantasy season last year, he missed two games. In 2012, he missed 6 games. In his first season with the Cowboys in 2011, he missed 3 games. If healthy, DeMarco Murray is absolutely a top 10 fantasy running back, but he hasn't proven to stay healthy and I think that risk needs to be built into these rankings. That's why I have Murray ranked as my 17th best RB.

Andre Ellington (ARI)

Truthfully, this is just a gut call for me. I fully admit that I am biased against Ellington's 5'9" frame and I just think Ellington is too small to be a three-down back in the NFL. I understand that when Rashard Mendenhall didn't play due to injury in 2013, Ellington got a hold of the reigns and and ran away with the job (pun intended). However, Ellington was only the starter for one game, and I just don't think he can hold up for an entire 16 game season. Small football players have proven me wrong over and over again in the past (most notably Russell Wilson recently) and it wouldn't surprise me if Ellington also proves me wrong this year, but I also don't want to use a high draft pick on him to find out specifics.

Chris Johnson (NYJ)

Johnson is probably appropriately ranked as the 26th best RB according to Yahoo! and the 25th best RB according to ESPN, but I hate Chris Johnson as a fantasy football option. I think he's just alright as a real life RB and I think he absolutely destroys your fantasy team. You can cite all the year end stats you want on CJ2K, but fantasy football is played on a weekly basis. Johnson will have some great weeks and he'll have absolutely atrocious weeks. Throughout the first SEVEN weeks of 2013, Chris Johnson failed to rush over 100 yards or get a rushing touchdown. Twice during that time span he ran for over 4.00 YPC, and one of those times was a 9 carries for 39 yard day. The fantasy football regular season is generally only 13 weeks long, and Johnson was terrible for over half of the season. Because Johnson performed so poorly, chances are most CJ2K owners benched the RB during his Week 8 campaign and missed out on his 150 yards and 2 TD game. Johnson performed similarly to start his 2012 campaign, where he only scored double digit fantasy points once throughout his first six weeks, and failed to score more than 4 points in 4 of those first six weeks (if you use standard scoring). Chris Johnson is able to put up good year end numbers, but those don't do you any good if you fail to make the playoffs.



Reggie Wayne (IND)

I love Reggie Wayne this year, and it wouldn't surprise me if he ended up on all of my fantasy teams. He's the 17th best wide receiver on my personal board and he's unquestionably in my Top 20. I understand the injury concerns, but by all accounts, he's 100% healthy and ready to play. There's absolutely risk of injury for Wayne in the future, but that's built into the #17 ranking. In 2012, Wayne was the 15th best wide out and I see no reason why Wayne can't return that kind of production again. I've also seen and heard criticism that it's a crowded receiving corps in Indy, but T.Y. Hilton proved last year that his upside is limited and he's not even close to the same player that Wayne is, and reports out of training camp is that Hakeem Nicks is terrible. I'm willing to bet big bucks Wayne plays 2014 like he did in 2012.

Kenny Britt (STL)

Kenny Britt is probably the only person on this list that's a true sleeper. While he's only my 43rd wide receiver ranked in my personal rankings, he's the 67th ranked WR according to Yahoo! behind the immortal Robert Woods, Aaron Dobson, and Jordan Matthews. ESPN has Britt ranked 68th. I'll fully admit that Kenny Britt is Fantasy Kryptonite for me- a player that I'll always like irrationally- but there's absolutely no reason he shouldn't be on any of your fantasy teams. It will cost you absolutely nothing to acquire him and if he performs like the stud he used to be, you're a genius, and if he performs terribly, you drop him in Week 3.

Harry Douglas (ATL)

This is more an indictment on Roddy White and Julio Jones than it is on Douglas. As I mentioned earlier when discussing Matt Ryan, the Falcons are an extremely conservative offense, and there's just no room for Douglas as a third receiver. However, Julio Jones always seems injured, and Roddy White missed a significant amount of time in 2013. Last year, even though Douglas only started 11 games, he still had 85 catches for 1,067 yards. The touchdowns were a problem (he only had 2 in 2013), but that's fluky and generally not likely to continue if he starts 11 games in 2014. Now don't get me wrong, Douglas should be a late-round flyer, but I'd prefer him over guys ESPN ranks around him like Kenbrell Thompkins, Lance Moore, or Andre Roberts.


Cordarrelle Patterson (MIN)

ESPN's Matthew Berry likes to talk about "Oooooh Players"- trendy sleepers who when drafted makes the rest of the league go "oooooooh, good pick". Cordarrelle Patterson is the quintessential "Oooooh Player" of 2014. He's an extremely trendy "sleeper" who can both run and catch the ball (although the last skill is debatable). The problem I have with Cordarrelle Patterson is that he hasn't proven anything yet, but he's being drafted like a three year veteran. If you want to draft Patterson in Yahoo! you're passing up on DeSean Jackson, Michael Floyd, Torrey Smith, and Michael Crabtree. ESPN is a tad more realistic having all those players ranked ahead of Patterson, but they still have the Vikings wide out ranked 25th. I understand that Patterson finished 2013 strong as he had 3 receiving touchdowns in his last four games, and 2 rushing touchdowns in his final 2 games, but Patterson is being drafted like your solid #2 wide out, and he needs to be drafted like that wide out on your bench who you will evaluate as the season progresses.

Dez Bryant (DAL)

I have Dez Bryant ranked #5 on my wide receiver board, so let's not get too out of control when I say Dez Bryant is a "bust", but I've seen him go extremely high in mock drafts, and I don't get it. I recently wrote a blog post entitled The Overrated Dez Bryant, and I basically made these two points: 1) Brandon Marshall has finished ahead of Dez Bryant in fantasy points for the past two years, so he needs to be ranked ahead of Bryant this year and 2) A.J. Green finished ahead of Bryant in 2013 and only finished 2 points behind Bryant in 2012. I understand that you may think Dez Bryant is going to great and finally break out for an entire season, but there's risk involving taking him as high as people do. I mean A LOT of risk. By taking Bryant as high as people have been, you're losing all of that risk.

Sammy Watkins (BUF)

I think with the recent success of Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and Keenan Allen, fantasy owners are starting to warm up to the notion of drafting rookie wide receivers. I understand that point, and Sammy Watkins is going to be a mega-superstar in this league, but it won't be this year. I think the biggest problem for Watkins will be his quarterback E.J. Manuel (or whichever quarterback is under center once Manuel inevitably gets injured). It doesn't matter how good you are, if you're quarterback can't get you the ball, you're useless for fantasy purposes. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald has been middling in mediocrity for years now because the Cardinals haven't found even an average quarterback since Kurt Warmer. I recently did my rankings for my Bad Quarterback League, and without hesitation I put the Buffalo Bills #1 because the Bills QB will be atrocious. If you're in a dynasty league, Sammy Watkins is hands out the #1 pick in your league, but in re-draft leagues, Watkins should only be a late round flyer. If you keep your expectations low on Sammy Watkins you will be rewarded.



Antonio Gates (SD)

This is both going to be a pro-Antonio Gates and anti-Ladarius Green post. I've seen mock drafts where the team's sole TE was Green. Green is a special talent and he's going to be a Top 5, or even Top 3 tight end sooner rather than later, but unless Antonio Gates has a season ending injury (which is possible with Antonio Gates' track record) Green is barely going to see passes his direction in 2014. Make no mistake, Antonio Gates is the San Diego Charger's starting tight end. You cannot count on Antonio Gates getting injured, and you certainly can't count on Gates being injured for the vast majority of season if Ladarius Green is your only tight end. ESPN has Gates ranked 15 and Green ranked 16 in their right end rankings, and that's probably correct because both tight ends are going to negatively affect each other's values. However, if Antonio Gates is healthy, he's going to be a Top 10 tight end.


Rob Gronkowski (NE)

Rob Gronkowski is going to get injured. There are three things in life that are guaranteed: death, taxes, and Rob Gronkowski being unable to finish a 16 game season. In 2013, Gronkowski only played in 7 games and in 2012, Gronk only played in 11. In 2014, maybe Gronkowski plays in 14 games and maybe he plays in 4, but I don't want him on my team to find out. Luckily for me, my personal draft strategy means I'm going to be on of the last people to draft a TE and there will be somebody in my league who likes him way more than I do. When I did my own personal rankings, I asked myself, "which TE is just 'OK' that I'd rather have the risk of Gronk over him?", For me, that line was between my #6 TE Vernon Davis and my #8 TE Jordan Reed. If you draft Gronk, just make sure you have a back up.



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