In standard leagues, I’ll be waiting on wideouts next season. Due to the depth of the WR position, the value drop-off at other positions between the first and second round will be steeper. Frankly, I’ll be more likely to start a draft with Jimmy Graham than any wide receiver. The talent gap between Graham and the second-tier tight ends is much greater than that between Gordon and guys like Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and A.J. Green.
Gordon just put up a Hall of Fame fantasy season while catching passes from the worst two headed monster this side of Greek mythology. It seems silly to pass on a guy who just posted 1,646 receiving yards despite missing two games, but that’s just what I’ll be doing if the cost is my first round pick. Cleveland’s bizarre decision to ax their entire coaching staff (specifically offensive coordinator Norv Turner) after only one season has me more than a little worried about the team’s 2014 prospects. Say what you will about Norval, but he brings an aggressive vertical passing game to town. Thanks at least in part to Turner’s play calling, Gordon was targeted on deep passes (20 or more yards down the field) 36 times, third most in the league. Not by coincidence he ranked second in deep pass receptions with 15, and fourth in deep pass yards with 511. Whether or not he benefits from the same aggressive play calling after the Browns tab a new coaching staff remains to be seen. And while I realize Gordon’s QB play can’t get much worse, we also have to factor in the likelihood he’ll be playing with a rookie signal caller next season. There will be more than a few WRs who represent great value in drafts next season, but with a first round price tag, Gordon is not one of them.
No, for two reasons. First, I value running backs more than any other position – so much so, that I’ll still draft an elite running back (if I can, that is) before I draft my quarterback. And if I don’t see an elite RB there, I’ll take Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones or A.J. Green before I take Gordon. He was amazing in 2013, but he’ll have a new QB and a new system in 2014. Those aren’t things we can just brush off.
Julio Jones is the safest bet to return expected value in 2014, but Doug Martin might offer the best return on investment if he’s discounted enough on draft day. The Muscle Hamster was a consensus first-round pick in 2013. Even before his season-ending injury, Martin didn’t look great running the ball, but the Bucs were a mess in those early weeks. If Tampa can right the ship in 2014 and get Martin going, there’s a chance he bounces back with first-round value. If his ADP slips to the second or third round based on a lackluster 2013, he could be a tremendous value along the lines of Matt Forte or DeMarco Murray this year.
First of all, can we agree that Arian Foster belongs nowhere near this discussion? The Grandmama corollary clearly states that athletes are never the same after back surgery. I’d love to say RGIII will be back and better than ever after more than a full offseason to get his knee right, but the prevailing scuttlebutt is that new Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden has a disdain for the read option, and wants to pound the ball with a combination of zone and power runs. Something tells me Julio Jones’ foot injury won’t depress his price tag as much as it should. It’s one thing to have a screw inserted in your foot. It’s another thing entirely for said screw to break while still inside your foot a couple years later. I guess that’s my long way of saying I agree with the Greg Sauce. Doug Martin was the number one overall pick in more than one draft I took part in this past season. Headed into 2014 he’ll probably be a late first rounder at best. The situation reminds me a little of LeSean McCoy’s entering 2013, and we saw how well that just turned out. With new Tampa Head Coach Lovie Smith on record as wanting to “bring back the Bucs old smash mouth style of play”, Martin should be in line for a return to fantasy prominence.
Julio Jones. He’s the only player here that isn’t going to have dramatic change around him. The loss of Tony Gonzalez only means his targets will increase, and he still has Matt Ryan and Roddy White to aid him. Doug Martin is a close second, but he and the rest of these guys have questions plus new systems to adjust to. I’d rather rely on Julio’s elite physical tools and the fact that nothing is changing around him.
As always, it’s all about value, but I’ll be most excited about owning Bernard next season. I like my running backs to be involved in the passing game. Bernard caught more passes than all the other backs on this list, as well as Reggie Bush and LeSean McCoy. Zac Stacy deserves an honorable mention here. He looks like the real deal, but he’ll have to face the Seahawks’, 49ers’, and Cardinals’ defenses a combined six time next season. Stacy’s value will be suppressed by that harsh schedule.
Montee Ball may not have burst onto the scene quite like the rest of this group, but he has the highest upside for 2014. If you want to get an idea of Ball’s ceiling, look no further than Knowshon Moreno’s 2013 (top 5 finish in fantasy points per game at RB). Moreno’s stellar play this year will likely pave the way for a RB needy team to overpay him in free agency, opening the door for Ball to take on the lion’s share of carries in Denver next season. Despite a bout with fumbilits back in September, the numbers tell us Ball impressed in his limited opportunities as a rookie. The Wisconsin product ranked 12th among RBs with at least 120 carries in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating, a stat that boils down a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers. From Week 12 forward, the only RB with at least 50 carries to best Ball’s 6.48 YPA was Jamaal Charles (6.63). Ball also answered enough questions about his abilities in pass protection to give Denver confidence in him as a lead back. Out of the 41 snaps Ball stayed in to protect, he only allowed Peyton Manning to be hurried a reasonable 5 times. If he gets that job to himself, Montee Ball will be worth a late first round pick. Oh, and if Peyton Manning’s neck exam doesn’t go well in March, this paragraph will self destruct.
Eddie Lacy, without a doubt. Ball could be capped by the return of Knowshon Moreno, Stacy still plays for the Rams, Gio may be sharing the ball still (possibly with Darren McFadden), and Ellington is a scat-back. It’s down to Bell and Lacy for me, and Lacy is the far more impressive runner. As long as he stays healthy, there’s little reason to think he won’t have the best season out of this group next year.