The sun is beginning to set on the 2014 preseason and many teams are quietly beginning to trim their rosters and send their unwanted players out to pasture. But as the NFL teams start cutting down to the final 53-man roster, fantasy football players are gearing up to put their rosters together.
There are only seven days left until the season kicks off in Seattle, and as the weeks have progressed players have begun to state a case for why they should be a part of your fantasy team.
As you get ready for the season and drafts begin to ramp up in the most exciting time of the year, what better time than now to discuss the players you should target or not target heading into draft day.
Brandin Cooks (WR, NO): A powerful, in your face, fast paced, air it out offense that focuses on the short to intermediate passing game and a player with veteran-like running ability, hands to catch the quick slant and legs to burn defensive backs deep, Brandin Cooks and the New Orleans Saints are a match made in heaven. Despite being listed as the #3 receiver on the depth chart and the #4 target with Jimmy Graham being Drew Brees’ go to option, Cooks looks primed to be the future heir apparent to an aging Marques Colston. In the preseason, Cooks looked dominant with six catches for 71 yards and a score and should eventually take over for Kenny Stills as the #3 option in New Orleans.
Outlook: Cooks was the fourth receiver off the board in 2014 Rookie Draft and twentieth overall, but arguably has the best skill set with the best situation of any of those taken before him. In a high-octane offense like New Orleans that has surpassed 5,000 passing yard seasons multiple times in the past few years, look for Cooks to have plenty of opportunities in open space to do what he does best.
Prediction: 77 Catches 1,147 yards, 6 TDs. ADP: 103 – 9th / 10th rounds.
Blake Bortles (QB, JAX): For now, the Jacksonville brass has not made the decision to make Bortles the starting QB, however, with an outstanding camp and great performances in three preseason games so far, that decision doesn’t look like it’s too far away despite head coach Gus Bradley saying he will sit to start the year. Bortles comes in as the #3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. A local Florida boy who graduated from UCF, Bortles has been moving full throttle since he stepped on an NFL practice field. The rookie QB made some heads turn with veteran-like play recognition and decision making and is even receiving praise from his coaching staff. “[Bortles] is throwing the ball with a bit better velocity…and is getting better at understanding the offense” said offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch following the Jags second preseason game.
Outlook: Until Bortles is officially named the starter, he is a third QB option at best. But if Bortles continues to improve as much as he has in just three weeks, look for the Bortles era to begin sooner rather than later.
Prediction: 2,100 yards passing, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 183 yards rushing, 2 rushing TDs. *prediction will change considerably if named the starter early on* ADP: Undrafted
Tony Romo (QB, DAL): Tony is coming off his second back surgery which forced him to miss the first preseason game. Since returning in week two, Romo has shined going 14 for 23 for 167 yards and a score. There is no question that Romo has all the weapons around him to continue to be a great fantasy QB, but his injury risk is high in 2014 and it should make many hesitant to draft him. But he has a new Offensive Coordinator in Scott Linehan who takes over the play calling in Dallas with a track record for success. He also has a top five left tackle, a top three wide receiver, a top ten running back and countless other weapons at his disposal, which should keep him on track for fantasy greatness in 2014.
Outlook: Romo arguably has one of the best young offenses in the National Football League, and he hasn’t lost any major weapons while gaining a new playbook known to stretch the field. Despite his back issues, Romo should be back to normal come week 1 and will be the leader of the only bright spot in Dallas.
Prediction: 4,737 yards, 31 TDs, 11 INTs. ADP: 85 – 7th – 8th rounds.
Rob Gronkowski (TE, NE): Gronk is one of those injury risks that has so much reward if he can stay healthy that it’s a no-brainer to have him on your roster. Gronk hasn’t seen game action yet, but he started two weeks ago with 11 – on – 11 drills for the first time and graduated to full team drills a few days later. There is no question that the Patriots offense moves when Gronk is on the field, and if he can stay healthy, that same high-powered offense will continue. In fact, Rob’s very first snap against a live defense was a pass reception from none other than boy wonder Tom Brady (NE). Just three seasons removed from his fabulous 2011 campaign with 90 catches, 1,300+ yards and 17 touchdowns, Gronk looks healthy for the first time in a few years.
Outlook: There is no denying Gronkowki’s importance when he is on the field. He is going to be Brady’s go-to-target and will definitely be a major part of the Patriots playbook when on the field. If Gronkowski can stay healthy (and I honestly believe he will) he can battle for the #1 tight end spot in fantasy.
Prediction: 75 catches, 1,050 yards, 11 TDs. *and this is being very cautious of his risks* ADP: 31 – 2nd / 3rd rounds.
Hakeem Nicks (WR, IND): I was bitten hard by Nicks last season when I selected him in the third round of my drafts, and he went on to have one of the worst NFL seasons for a #1 receiver. Nicks has had a change of scenery to Indianapolis where outstanding third year player Andrew Luck is now his QB. With Reggie Wayne and TY Hilton locking up spots on the depth chart for Indianapolis it allows Nicks to quietly rack up yards without much focus from opposing defenses. Luck is in a great position with three receivers who have had a taste of battling opposing #1 corner backs and is looking to get Nicks involved early on.
Outlook: Nicks has been proving the doubters wrong early on in the pre season with eight receptions for 86 yards. But there is certainly a reason to approach with caution. Nicks hurt more fantasy owners last year than any other pass catcher. But with a change of scenery and a significantly better quarterback at the helm, look for Nicks to return back to his old self.
Prediction: 63 catches 983 yards, 5 TDs. ADP: 129 – 12th / 13th
Diamonds in the Rough:
Christine Michael (RB, SEA): There is absolutely no doubt that Marshawn Lynch is the bell cow in Seattle. Reports came out the other day that the ‘Hawks are going to run him until his wheels fall off. But when those wheels fall off, it will be Michael who will be the next one to jump in the driver seat. Michael, an excellent halfback in college who missed most of last year due to injury, shows a quick first step, great hands out of the backfield and a superb vision in the running lanes. Michael has had his problems with fumbles early on this off season, but he is showing excellent ability in both the running game and the passing game, finding the end zone from both sides of the offense.
Jordan Reed (TE, WSH): Despite missing six weeks due to injury in 2013, Reed reeled in 45 receptions on 59 targets for 499 yards. In 2014, Reed has a new head coach, one who has run offenses so enamored with the tight end it has been almost difficult to guess which one will be the sure thing. In 2013, the Jay Gruden-led Cincinnati offense got 85 catches and 903 yards combined out of Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham who ranked 11th and 10th respectively of all NFL TEs. Add those numbers together, and you have the second best tight end in football. Reed is currently being drafted 82nd overall and the 9th overall tight end off the board.
Coal: Players to avoid.
Sammy Watkins (WR, BUF): I am not sold that Sammy Watkins is the answer. In fact, I think Buffalo was wrong for jumping up and taking Watkins where they did. Watkins, in his young career, has already shown weakness in the health department losing big chunks of his collegiate career and now possibly losing time in the NFL due to a rib injury. Sure it’s only preseason, but the Bills offense hasn’t looked very impressive, and that alone forces hesitation to take Watkins with any real confidence.
Jamaal Charles (HB, KC): There is absolutely no denying Charles’ talent level. Before his ACL tear or after, Charles has been one of the best halfbacks in football and will continue to do so in 2014. However, that doesn’t mean you should be taking him with the first three options off the board. The Chiefs offense has lost some pretty big pieces from their offensive line, and Dwayne Bowe is well, Dwayne Bowe. That will all add up to defenses stacking the box and making quick tackles on Charles. Jamaal is 100% a first round back, but I’d wait to take him towards the later half of the first round.
Johnny Manziel (QB, CLE): Manziel is the shiny piece of jewelry that everyone wants in their life. He is brash, in your face and confident, all things you want in your starting quarterback. However, those things don’t add to production. I personally believe that Manziel will be a really good career QB, but not an all-time great, and he certainly isn’t going to take the Browns to a championship as quickly as Russell Wilson did with the ‘Hawks. Manziel has great athleticism, but he is an absolute head case and makes wild decisions that will be costly in the pro game. In just two short appearances in an NFL uniform, Johnny Football hasn’t looked all that impressivef you are thinking you will strike lightning in a bottle with a late round pick of Manziel think again.
Hate what I said? Love what I said? Just want to vent your fantasy frustrations? I’ll be answering questions right up until game time. Hit me up on Twitter @JustinMandaro.