Everyone plants flags.
Some end up working out well, while some flags are still left standing next to the corpse of Zac Stacy. Yeah, that flag may or may not be white now, too.
But that, to me, is what makes fantasy football so darn fun. There’s nothing like touting a player all offseason long, investing in him and then watching him tear it up on the field. It’s fun to be right, but reality tells us that is never, ever happens all the time. Otherwise, what fun would it truly be?
Everyone plants flags. Where do mine reside?
Players I Love For 2015
Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles
He’s quite possibly the captain of The Love Boat, but I can’t get over the immense upside that comes with Bradford in this Eagles’ system. It’s far too enticing. No team in football ran more plays per game than Philadelphia did in 2014 (70.7), and the quick-hitting offense has helped the likes of Mark Sanchez, Nick Foles and Michael Vick be more than just fantasy relevant. In fact, in the 32 games Chip Kelly has run this offensive unit, the Eagles’ starting quarterback has accumulated at least 15 fantasy points 65 percent of the time. That gives you a pretty strong floor already, and when you consider that Bradford is by far the best signal caller Chip has ever had, there’s perhaps even more upside, too. Bradford ran a similar style of offense during his time at Oklahoma, which, by the way, also featured running back DeMarco Murray, now his teammate in Philadelphia. His opening schedule is absolutely beautiful, and even with the departure of Jeremy Maclin, this team is going to score a ton of points, and Bradford will reap the fantasy benefits.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Frank Gore is not your typical 32-year old running back.
He’s just not.
Sure, only two running backs of that age have rushed for 1,000 yards since 2001 (Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams), but Gore takes such good care of his body, which has helped him play in every single game since the 2011 season. During that span, he’s been at least an RB2 in every year, and now he joins what could be the best offense in all of football this season in Indianapolis. The Colts were already a top-10 team in terms of red zone scoring attempts last year, and now their offense is even more explosive. Gore is an awesome fit for this offense because, despite his reception totals lacking as of late, he’s an incredibly gifted pass-catcher out of the backfield, and, of course, is probably the best pass-blocking back in the NFL, which is huge when playing alongside Andrew Luck. But take a look at Gore’s reception totals without Greg Roman calling plays in San Francisco:
Last year, the 49ers ranked 31st in total targets to the running back (64). He’s now joining a Colts’ offense that ranked top-12 in that regard. Even at his current age, as well as compiling the most active touches in the NFL, I truly believe Gore can be a top-12 fantasy back in 2015.
C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints
The sky is blue, grass is green and I love C.J. Spiller.
Ladies and gentleman, I present to you, obvious statements.
First of all, Spiller should be ready to go by Week 1 after undergoing a minor knee scope, so that’s good news. Now, many people are worried about him getting hurt and burning them again, but I can’t quit my man crush, and I can’t ignore the immense upside he has in this offense. Sean Payton has been talking him up like crazy, stating he can be like Darren Sproles, but better. And he can. Remember, this is still one of the most talented backs in the NFL, as his 2012 season featured the highest-graded elusive rating PFF has ever recorded. And, of course, the opportunity is huge.
With Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Pierre Thomas now gone, the Saints have 263 targets up for grabs. And last year, the Saints targeted the running back position more than anyone else in football, and that was WITH Graham and company. Drew Brees is the best screen/intermediate passer in the league, and Spiller will enjoy playing with a much, much, much better offense than he was in during his time with Buffalo. Spiller has also hauled in just under 80 percent percent of his career passes, and even more frightening, averages an awesome 5.2 yards per carry on turf. Simply put, if he stays healthy, 80 catches is well within reach.
Zac Stacy, New York Jets
Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
There’s a large enough sample size to say that Marc Trestman is incredible for fantasy football.
Under Trestman last year, Matt Forte set an NFL record for running back receptions (102), so a lot of people are talking up Forsett, who is coming off an outstanding season. I would say that I’m not one of those guys, but…
I’m one of those guys.
Forsett, meanwhile, has always been a good running back, sporting a career YPC of 5.2, but was also behind some great running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster. He’s also already a capable pass-catcher, hauling in 44 balls last year. That number could legitimately double under Trestman in 2015. And, you can’t forget that he’s going to carry the football a good amount for this offense, running behind the number-four run-blocking unit in all of football, according to PFF. Using more of their stats, no back in the league had a higher breakaway percentage than Forsett, while he also ranked top-12 in elusive rating. Last season was no fluke.
Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia Eagles
He’s not a handcuff to DeMarco Murray.
In Chip Kelly’s offense, there is enough opportunity for Mathews to see 8-12 offensive touches per game, and, of course, if something were to happen to Murray, Mathews would come in and be at least a top-10 fantasy running back. He fits this offense very well, the Eagles absolutely love him, and let’s not forget, despite often battling injury, Mathews is a very good back. There are also reports that the Eagles may use more of a committee approach than people may think, and because this is the fastest offense in the league, when Mathews checks into the game, he isn’t going in for a play or two. He’ll be in for an entire series, on many occasions.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Psst! A.J. Green is still one of the best receivers in all of football, folks.
Prior to battling injury last year, Green averaged 98 receptions, 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns over the 2013 and 2014 seasons, easily serving as a top-five fantasy wide receiver. In 2015, however, he missed three games, and was limited in a few others, but still posted 69/1041/6. Even in a run-oriented offense under Hue Jackson, Green is going to see upwards to 150 targets from Andy Dalton, especially when you consider that he’s averaged 144 over his first four seasons. Entering a contract year, I think Green reminds everyone that he’s still one of the best wideouts in the NFL, and you can currently draft him towards the back end of the second round.
Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
It may not be this year, but Amari Cooper is going to be a Pro Bowl wide receiver. I absolutely love his game, as he’s easily the most pro-ready rookie out of this draft class. He runs fantastic routes, has incredible awareness and a great feel for coverage around him. Joining the Raiders is never the most appealing situation, but I do think he’ll see an appealing workload, and considering he caught an insane 124 balls at Alabama last season, I believe Cooper can handle a strong amount of targets. The Raiders will likely try to establish a running game, but when they get behind, they’ll be forced to throw. It was a similar case as 2014 when Oakland actually led the entire NFL in passing play percentage (66%). I think based off talent and volume alone, he’ll haul in 80 balls for around 1,000 yards in his rookie year, and if Derek Carr can take another step forward, the sky is truly the limit for Cooper.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
30 percent of Bryant’s 2014 receptions went for touchdowns. That isn’t happening again, but, entering his sophomore year, I still absolutely love the guy. He plays for one of the best offenses in the NFL, and while some are upset over the fact that Markus Wheaton is slated as Pittsburgh’s number-two wideout, it really doesn’t matter because the Steelers run three-wide sets most of the time anyway. Pittsburgh is going to see plenty of RZ scoring chances, ranking top-12 in that regard last year, while only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers attempted more red zone passes than Ben Roethlisberger did in 2014. I think the Steelers will unleash him even more in year two, as he only saw 40-50 percent of snaps during the regular season, but during the biggest game of the year (playoffs), that number jumped all the way to 83 percent. While touchdowns may be his forte, don’t sleep on his big play ability. We’ve already seen glimpses of that during the preseason, and last year, only Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green had a higher yards per route run. Don’t expect a sophomore slump from this wideout.
Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers
I’ve talked about it a lot, but Boldin is one of the most undervalued players in all of fantasy football. Here’s a guy who has never finished worse than WR35, and has been a top-20 fantasy receiver 66 percent of the time for his career. However, Boldin is currently coming off the board as the number-46 overall wide receiver. Sure, he’s less exciting than many receivers and is 34-years old, but he still handled 90 percent of the 49ers’ offensive snaps last season, and should serve as Colin Kaepernick‘s number-one option in the passing game, even with the addition of Torrey Smith. And the passing volume should increase this year with San Francisco on the verge of completely falling off, especially on defense, forcing them to throw the ball a lot more than in years past.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
Recent circumstances forced me to go from “liking” to “loving” the Panthers tight end, who has been a model of consistency, but fantasy owners are often bored by his lack of monstrous numbers. I mean, 80 catches, at least 800 yards and five or six touchdowns is absolutely nothing to scoff at. He’s obviously never been a huge touchdown guy, but he could see a spike in scoring in 2015 with Kelvin Benjamin sidelined for the entire season. In 2014, Benjamin tied Demaryius Thomas for the league-lead in end zone targets (23), while only five wideouts had more total targets. Perhaps if he sees an uptick in red zone looks, Olsen will help win you weeks more often, because that’s something he’s never really done. However, he never really loses you a week, either.
Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Walker was quietly solid last season, finishing fourth in tight end receiving yards, ninth in tight end fantasy points and fifth in tight end targets from inside the 10-yard line. Now he gets a major upgrade at quarterback in Marcus Mariota, who will extend plays and look for his veteran safety valve early and often, especially in an offense that is severely lacking playmakers on the outside. Walker has been a top-12 tight end in each of the last two seasons, despite horrible quarterback play. Don’t forget about him come draft day.