In fantasy sports, there is so much variance and transitioning, which forces players (and writers) to always be on their toes. And yet, there I was, writing fantasy football player rankings in the month of December.
Of course, after free agency and the recently closed NFL Draft, my above statement came to fruition. Things changed. Having said that, I’ll need to make some changes, too. Over the course of the next week or so, I’ll be re-constructing my 2015 rankings, starting with the deepest position in the game, quarterback.
-Since 2008, Aaron Rodgers has been the cream of the fantasy crop, finishing as QB2, QB1, QB1, QB2, QB2 and QB2 during that span. Not sure it gets any better than that, folks. Leading the high-powered Green Bay offense gives Rodgers massive touchdown upside, and last season, he ranked second in the NFL in red zone passes (109), attempts inside the ten-yard line (50) and inside the five (24). When looking at the greatest fantasy performances since 1960 from a quarterback, Rodgers accounts for four of the top-20, while his four seasons with at least 300 fantasy points are good for second-best ever. Some people have Andrew Luck over him, but I’ll stick with the best signal caller on the planet.
-According to Pro Football Focus, the only person Rodgers scored more fantasy points each time he dropped back to pass? Russell Wilson, of course, who scored 0.61 fantasy points each time. Last year, his monster rushing season boosted his value, as his 849 rushing yards ranked 16th in football. And 20 percent of his total fantasy points came from his legs, while his six rushing scores were more than guys like LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore. He’s served as a top-10 fantasy passer in every season, and with Jimmy Graham now in the mix, I’ve moved him up to third overall. I also like how, while not the Lions or Giants in terms of passing volume, Seattle has increased their passing play percentage in every season since Wilson entered the league.
-Drew Brees is always a polarizing fantasy quarterback, but for many people this season, he’s not being looked at as a top-three option. He finished outside of the top-five last year, as the Saints were more committed to a rushing attack with Mark Ingram. In 2013, the Saints ranked 28th in rushing touchdown percentage, but that number climbed all the way to 9th in football in 2014, as Mark Ingram led the league in carries within five yards of the end zone, via Mike Clay of PFF. And, of course, losing Jimmy Graham isn’t ever a good thing, who has averaged 10.2 touchdowns over the course of his career. However, I would still be more than fine with him as my starting quarterback in fantasy land.
-Whether it’s his winning smile or touchdown celebrations, I cannot quit Cam Newton. He missed two games last year, but finished with a strong average of about 18 fantasy points per game. And towards the beginning of last year, it appeared the Panthers were going to limit Cam’s rushing, but I was glad to see that not come true. Newton posted four games last year with 10 or more rushes, and for the fourth time in four years, he finished the season with at least 100 rushing attempts.
-Thanks to the arrival of star wideout Odell Beckham Jr., Eli Manning enjoyed one of the best statistical seasons of his career, completing a career-high 63.1 percent of his passes, tossing 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. In fact, big brother Peyton actually threw more picks than Eli in 2014. With Beckham on the outside, Eli averaged almost two more fantasy points per game, as well as about 40 more passing yards per game. In the 12 games Beckham played in 2014, Eli had seven multiple-touchdown games, averaging just under 290 yards per game through the air.
Ben McAdoo’s offense seemed to make Manning more comfortable, and now with Beckham’s emergence and Victor Cruz’s return, Manning has his best receiving corp ever, making him an awesome late-round quarterback to target, especially still playing in the NFC East and their horrible defensive units. Both the Eagles and Redskins ranked inside the bottom-three in fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks, while the Cowboys ranked 13th. Quarterbacks against these three teams averaged just under 20 fantasy points per game in 2014.
-Upon writing this, Tom Brady is suspended for the first four games of the season. An interesting strategy would be to just draft Brady if he falls incredibly late and then potentially use him or another quarterback as trade bait. He’ll more than likely post top-12 fantasy point per game numbers once he returns.
-Teddy Bridgewater is my boy, y’all. I’ve written and talked about him ad nauseam, and it continues here. From Weeks 12-17, he was a top-12 fantasy signal caller, averaging just over 17 fantasy points per contest. During that span, he averaged 1.6 passing touchdowns per game, and he became the first rookie quarterback in league history to complete at least 70 percent of his passes in four consecutive games. He showed that he can be both a fantasy stud, as well as a real-football stud. Now he has more weapons, as the team brought in Mike Wallace, which should be a good match with Teddy, who completed 47 percent of his deep passes during his rookie year, and in college, he completed just over 50 percent of such passes. And, of course, if Minnesota maintains Adrian Peterson, that will only help the offense and scoring opportunities.
-Finally, it appears that the Dolphins have their franchise quarterback, as they extended Ryan Tannehill to a six-year, $96 million contract. He was a top-10 fantasy signal caller last season, as the Dolphins offense took a bit of a step forward, ranking second in the NFL in red zone scoring attempts per game, behind only New England. His final numbers were strong, but I’d like him to be a bit more consistent. According to Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports, while Tannehill posted seven games of at least 20 points, he also had seven games with 15 or fewer. But he offers some rushing upside, too, averaging almost four rushing attempts per game. That gives you one or two extra points per contest, with the possibility of a short touchdown run.
-If you’re drafting Sam Bradford, you’re essentially investing in Chip Kelly and the Eagles offense. Last year, Nick Foles and Sam Bradford combined to average a respectable 16 fantasy points per game in Philly, and Bradford is better than both. In seven games in 2013, Bradford was actually really good, tossing 14 touchdowns to just four picks, completing 61 percent of his passes and totaling 1,600 yards on a weak St. Louis offense. Now he gets a higher-upside Eagles offense that led the NFL in plays per game last year (70.7). He’s going to be a very popular streamer, and could flirt with QB1 numbers if, of course, he can stay on the field.
-A very intriguing guy for me heading into this year is Colin Kaepernick. He’s absolutely oozing with talent and ability, but needs to adjust his mechanics, which is why he’s been working with Kurt Warner throughout the offseason. I think he could be in line for a bounceback season in 2015. He’s coming off a career-high 104 rushing attempts, and we know how valuable quarterbacks who run can be. But all of the losses to this 49ers team have been on the defensive end, which actually helps Kaepernick’s fantasy totals. We may see San Francisco throw more than we have in quite some time, and the likes of Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are more than capable of making plays.
-The rookies are definitely the most interesting names of this final bunch. Clearly, I prefer Jameis Winston of the two, simply because I don’t expect Tampa Bay to run the football well, and while Tennessee might not either, at least Winston will have two top-25 NFL wide receivers to throw the ball to. Last season, the huge bodies of Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins lead the Bucs to rank 9th in the league in passing touchdown percentage at 67.7 percent, and that was with Mike Glennon and Josh McCown under center. Winston tends to take chances with his throws, but doing so with Evans might not hurt him as much as other scenarios.
-As for Mariota, there is still upside here because I could see him running the ball 80-100 times in year one. That truly may be the only way the Titans offense moves up and down the field. We’ve seen far less talented mobile quarterbacks become very fantasy relevant, so I’m definitely not shutting the door on the former Heisman Trophy winner.