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Updated Sept 2. Team Notes

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Who to draft and when. Also see: QB Tiers and TE Tiers.

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NFL Preseason Week 4 Projections and Rankings Update, Team Notes

Buffalo Bills

Rookie WR Sammy Watkins reinjured his ribs and left the Bills Week 4 preseason game. He had trouble with his ribs before, so this is certainly concerning. As for the state of the whole Bills offense after a 23-0 drubbing by the Detroit Lions, it looks like I’m whoring myself out to cheer for another team again this season. Please leave suggestions in the comments.

In all seriousness about my allegiance to the Bills, props to P Brian Moorman for his open letter to the Buffalo fan base after his release.

Hey, the Bills could bring in free agent QB Kyle Orton. I’ll drink to that!

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton said he has no doubt he will play in the Panthers Week 1 game versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite his fractured ribs. Play and play like Cam Newton are two different things. Here is hoping he doesn’t get a painful welcome to the season greeting from Lavonte David or Mark Barron.

Someone set me straight, I actually think Jonathan Stewart is worthy of a last round pick on hopes (prayers?) he can stay healthy to start the season and impress. Then trade him.

Chicago Bears

WR Santonio Holmes caught a TD and returned one punt in the Bears final preseason game, as he continues to make his case to latch on as the team’s third WR with Marquess Wilson sidelined indefinitely. I still don’t think he makes the “On The Radar” section of our rankings, but damn, who can forget that Super Bowl catch?

Cincinnati Bengals

Jeremy Hill got a heavy workload and looked good doing so in the Bengals last preseason game. The next day, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was released.

Cleveland Browns

Josh Gordon‘s one-year suspension was upheld on appeal. He can’t play in the CFL either, if you were concerned about that. He should have lots of time on his hands now, which can only lead to good things…

Denver Broncos

WR Wes Welker is optimistic but overall uncertain to play for Week 1 of the regular season.

Green Bay Packers

WR Jarrett Boykin received some praise from the head coach. About time? I haven’t heard anything positive all offseason and it would seem to me Boykin’s fantasy value was moving down. He stepped in admirably last year, and this would be one of the teams where their WR3 has value. Keep in mind, the Packers’ TE position is a mess. Davante Adams is still the better longer-term play over Boykin.

Miami Dolphins

I eluded to this in our recent RB Tiers + Strategy article, and I’m making a change, giving Knowshon Moreno a bigger piece of the RB pie in Miami ahead of Lamar Miller.

New England Patriots

WR Aaron Dobson saw his first game action of the preseason the other night, returning from a foot injury. The already muddled receiving corps on the Pats gets even murkier. Pick your poison between Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell. Or better yet, leave them be.

The Pats acquired TE Tim Wright from the Bucs along with a draft pick for Logan Mankins. Wright performed well last year on the receiver depleted Bucs as a rookie, but was lost amongst a myriad of TE options in Bucs training camp. Now he’s with the Pats, fantasy owners are getting excited. I wouldn’t get too excited, except as a potential short term option IF Rob Gronkowski can’t play Week 1. Which, is still very much a possibility, of course. We may not know for certain until about an hour before kickoff, Sunday September 7th.

Oakland Raiders

Matt Schaub has a banged up elbow. Derek Carr looked great in preseason action. QB controversy? Hey, as long as they don’t throw the kid to the wolves like the Houston Texans did with his older brother, right?

Hey look, a Denarius Moore sighting. I received a dynasty league trade offer from the Moore owner in my league the next morning.

Philadelphia Eagles

RB Chris Polk continues to sit out game action, missing the Eagles final preseason game. He would be in the handcuff discussion if anything happened to LeSean McCoy, but only if Polk himself can get healthy.

Seattle Seahawks

RB Christine Michael has a hamstring injury, missed the Seahawks final preseason game and is behind Robert Turbin on the depth chart. If looking to draft a lottery ticket in your draft at RB, then consider looking elsewhere.

St. Louis Rams

RB Benny Cunningham is getting on the fantasy radar, having outplayed Zac Stacy and rookie Tre Mason in preseason. I wouldn’t worry too much about Cunningham displacing Stacy at this point, but it is always good to know the right replacement players if the starter goes down.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rookie RB Charles Sims is expected to be placed on the NFL’s injured reserve – designated to return list, meaning he could be brought back to the active roster after about the midpoint of the season. If Doug Martin is rolling we shouldn’t be too worried about a returning Sims for redraft, but pretty clear the Bucs love the kid, so be aware.

Kickers

Could this position get more annoying for fantasy football? Matt Prater gets himself suspended for four games and now with roster cuts in full swing, some name kickers are getting the axe. Be wary of Alex Henery – Eagles, Connor Barth – Bucs, and, and … someone else I’m forgetting … have I mentioned I hate kickers?

Points are points, so you’ve got to keep tabs on them, even though we’d rather spend our time elsewhere, like playing Fantasy Throwdown, perhaps? (You can choose to remove kickers from your Throwdown challenges, by the way.)

Fantasy Football Running Back Tiers, Rankings and Draft Strategy Discussion

Top ranked running backs for fantasy football, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy. Photos: Icon Sportswire

Is Jamaal Charles the top ranked running back in fantasy football? There are some red flags. Maybe LeSean McCoy? Truth be told there are five top workhorse running backs that should be the first five picks in most formats in 2014. Photos: Icon Sportswire

While the NFL has become more of a passing league, fantasy football championships are still heavily influenced by an owner’s ability to secure two solid running backs in his or her starting lineup.

But with teams relying more on their passing attacks than ever before and moving to committee approaches at the running back position, the number of workhorse running backs has been drastically reduced in recent years.

In 2014, there are fewer than 10 workhorse running backs and some of the players that fall within that category have injury concerns which reduce their fantasy appeal. That being said, just about any workhorse running back is worth gambling on given the short supply.

This season features five solid options at the top of the running back rankings, and these players should be the first players taken in all formats. After that, there are several solid options worth gambling on but the supply of players that have confidence inspiring roles and resumés begins to end after about 20 names with another five or six players having solid value given their current ADP.

But there’s a big difference between solid value meaning, “worth gambling on” than solid value meaning they give you solid comfort they will produce for the entire season.

Tier 1
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
1 KC 6 1.03
2 PHI 7 1.02
3 MIN 10 1.04
4 CHI 9 1.06
5 GB 9 1.05

While you can quibble with the order of these five running backs, you can’t argue with the notion that they should be the first five players off the board in every draft. Bar none. At the top, the Chiefs depleted offensive line raises some concern as to whether Charles should remain the top ranked running back ahead of McCoy and Peterson. Put them in the order you like but if you have a top five selection, you must use your pick on one of these players.

Mike’s Take: There are some red flags for Charles which may prompt a move down within the tier. I am anxious to see what Norv Turner has in store for Adrian Peterson. Eddie Lacy was a later addition to Tier 1. I would be ecstatic to get him with a mid-first round pick. Looking at the top two tiers at RB and WR, I would almost definitely prefer to get one of these 5 RB and best available WR, than the other way around, in most formats.

Tier 2
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
6 SEA 4 1.10
7 DAL 11 2.02
8 TB 7 2.09
9 DEN 4 1.12
10 CIN 4 2.06
11 PIT 12 3.06
12 HOU 10 2.08
13 ARI 4 3.02

The second tier of running backs is deep and populated by talented backs, albeit ones with some question marks, even if those question marks are minor. Will Lynch wear down? Can Murray, Ball and Foster remain healthy? Will Bernard and Ellington get enough touches to attain RB1 status? Can Martin bounce back and is Bell more than just a volume guy? While this group is talented, it’s not talented enough to stop fantasy owners from considering the top six or seven wide receivers, the top three quarterbacks and Jimmy Graham ahead of the players in this tier. Of particular concern are Ellington and Foster with Bernard also struggling in the preseason.

Mike’s Take: I often felt like this tier was getting too big when doing our rankings, but really, pretty similar risk-reward profiles across the board. We’ve had Doug Martin higher than most rankings since the start of fantasy prep season, probably too high before, but now reasonable with recent circumstances in the Bucs backfield. People either believe Arian Foster is going to bounce back, or he won’t, without much in between. I’m avoiding drafting him, letting someone else take the chance.

Tier 3
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
14 STL 4 3.05
15 BUF 9 4.01
16 SD 10 4.05
17 WAS 10 2.12
18 NE 10 4.05
19 CLE 4 5.08
20 DET 9 3.08

The warts really begin to show in the 3rd tier of running backs. At this point in your draft, feel comfortable grabbing Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski at tight end as well as any wide receiver ranked in the Top 15. Mathews, Morris, Vereen, Tate and Bush all have question marks regarding how much they will be used. While Stacy was productive as a rookie, there was a reason he lasted until the 5th round of the NFL Draft, and he was clearly a volume play given his 3.9 yards per carry average. In addition, his performance in the preseason has been disconcerting with reports out of St. Louis that Benny Cunningham could muscle his way into making this more of a timeshare situation. Spiller has the most upside in this group but he is a boom/bust type of pick with the Buffalo Bills coaching staff unwilling to bend their offensive philosophy to get him the ball in space. There is talent in this tier but also some risk. The next tier features safer options, albeit with less upside.

Mike’s Take: Spiller is a tough one to figure out. The Bills should run a lot, benefitting Spiller, but he was a real disappointment last year. The Bills overall offense looks poor, which makes things sketchy for one of your starting running backs. I really like Mathews’ talent. Can he stay healthy and where is his dedication level at? Two big questions. I’m really thinking Shane Vereen could be a S.O.D. (steal of the draft) candidate lately, but given his anticipated role, on the Patriots no less, it is hard to push him up any higher in the rankings.

Tier 4
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
21 NYG 8 3.11
22 JAC 11 4.02
23 BAL 11 5.01
24 OAK 5 6.07
25 SF 8 4.08
26 TEN 9 5.07

Tier 4 may actually feature some workhorse runners although none of these running backs are strong candidates to finish in the Top 10. Even Rice seems like a long shot even though he’s been there, done that. Jennings could lose some goal line touches to Andre Williams but he looks like a three down back entering the season as does Gerhart. MJD has looked solid and we all know Darren McFadden‘s injury history. Gore isn’t flashy but he should attain RB2 status in 2014. Sankey needs to overtake Shonn Greene, but once that happens, we expect him to be a feature back. Most of this group represents solid value at their current ADP, and they are going off the board at the point where the wide receivers feature greater risk.

Mike’s Take: On the one hand, Jennings looks like a good fit for the Giants offense. On the other hand, its Rashad Jennings, who has bounced around a bit and never really strung together a consistent streak of solid performances. Gerhart maybe never had an opportunity to do it before, but we are skeptical, and even as a high volume carry guy, how is that going to translate in the Jaguars offense? MJD does look good, and is still coming off the board as an RB3 most of the time. He looks like a worthwhile risk. It may be smoke and mirrors by the Titans indicating Sankey isn’t ready to be their workhorse, yet. We’ve seen it before with teams and rookies. That is part of the risk rolling the dice on rookies. If you draft him, then make sure you don’t absolutely need to rely on him – keep expectations in check and hope for the best.

Tier 5
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
27 NYJ 11 5.09
28 MIA 5 6.12
29 NO 6 7.01
30 IND 10 6.03
31 ATL 9 7.06
32 DET 9 5.04

A quick look at this tier makes it clear why Tier 4 is the place to be. Outside of Trent Richardson, this group features little upside. And even T-rich’s upside must be questioned with his continued struggles in the preseason and the Colts shoddy offensive line. Johnson and Jackson are aging backs while Thomas seems destined for pass receiving duties. Both Miller and Bell figures to split the work in the range of 55/45 with their backfield mates (Knowshon Moreno and Reggie Bush), although it’s up for debate as to which players in each pairing will handle the larger role.

Mike’s Take: Outside of Pierre Thomas, if he drops far enough, these guys might as well all be tagged, “do not draft” on my list. Not that I have anything against Bell, but he typically gets drafted somewhat earlier than I would take him. As for the rest, Richardson continues to look sluggish, it is hard to imagine Jackson staying healthy a month much less a season, Johnson continues to be over-drafted, and Miller could easily be surpassed by Moreno at this point. Do I want to take the chance Miller holds him off, to own a piece of the Dolphins running game? More than likely, I’m drafting other positions around the time these guys are coming off the board.

Tier 6
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
33 NO 6 9.09
34 BAL 11 8.05
35 MIA 5 8.08
36 CAR 12 10.03
37 SD 10 8.11
38 OAK 5 10.12

There is a large gap in the ADP ranges between Tiers 5 and 6. Unfortunately, the ADP gap doesn’t lead to the increase in value that you would expect. Ingram seems ready to finally assume a lead role in New Orleans and Moreno could easily open the season as Miami’s starter. Pierce’s preseason concussion has stunted his momentum while Williams and Woodhead offer pretty much no upside. As for McFadden, I’m fine if somebody grabs him and watches him bust out.

Mike’s Take: I pretty much agree with Dave with one slight exception. In terms of getting a third RB on your roster, I don’t see a ton of difference in outlook between this group and the group above them, except at a discounted price. When the prior group is up in the draft, solidify your receivers or QB position. Then at this point, maybe grab a pair and play the odds one will exceed expectations. Lean to upside with Ingram, Pierce and Moreno. Another reason to de-emphasize depth at RB – they are always easier to grab off waivers as the season progresses. Woodhead is unheralded and will never offer much trade value, but he can put up solid points, especially in a PPR league.

Tier 7
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
39 SF 8 8.06
40 SEA 4 12.01
41 CLE 4 9.07
42 ATL 9 9.02
43 KC 6 13.03

This is the upside tier with all of these running backs having the ability to have breakout seasons provided the players ahead of them on the depth chart suffer significant injuries. While Hyde has looked solid, we fully expect him to work in a pure backup role in his rookie season. West has done little to challenge Ben Tate in Cleveland while Michael can’t seem to overtake Robert Turbin for the lead backup role to Marshawn Lynch in Seattle. That leaves Freeman as the player in this tier most likely to earn a major role with only the aging Steven Jackson ahead of him.

Mike’s Take: Upside tier? I was calling it the handcuff tier. Although the way drafts go these days, in my experience, less and less does the owner of say, Marshawn Lynch, acquire Lynch’s anticipated direct handcuff, Michael. This could also be known as the lottery ticket tier, and everyone likes playing the lottery for a big potential payoff. Just make sure when you buy your ticket, you aren’t overpaying. This tier is also very much in flux as players with the most “upside” move in and out of here constantly.

Tier 8
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
44 NO 6 11.05
45 IND 10 11.10
46 GB 9 13.09
47 TEN 9 12.08
48 NE 10 7.08
49 PHI 7 7.11
50 CIN 4 10.04
51 NYJ 11 12.05
52 PIT 12 11.07
53 DAL 11 13.12

At this point in your draft, you’re pulling slots although some pulls are better than others. With a 7th round ADP, Ridley and especially Sproles are overvalued. Out of this group, Bradshaw, Hill, Ivory and Dunbar are solid values. Of particular interest are Ivory, who seems a much better match in the Jets offense than free agent signee Chris Johnson, and Jeremy Hill, who could emerge as a solid RB3 if the Bengals determine that Giovani Bernard is more effective in a committee role than as a workhorse back. While Greene may open the season getting a fair amount of touches in Tennessee, we expect that to change early in 2014.

Mike’s Take: This is a mixed bag of handcuffs and role players that could contribute from time to time in the right matchup, and contribute more if one of their teammates goes down. With recent rumors Ridley might not even make the Patriots final roster, his ADP is likely overstated, but he could bounce back quickly if (when) he finds employment elsewhere. Personal preference is the name of the game here, and mine include Bradshaw, Blount and Dunbar.

Tier 9
Rank
Player
Team Bye ADP
54 STL 4 14.02
55 BUF 9 7.12
56 NYG 8 10.03
57 BUF 9
58 ARI 4
59 HOU 10
60 NE 10 13.06

While there are some solid values in Tier 8, that isn’t as much of the case in Tier 9 outside of one major exception. With Arian Foster struggling with injuries in the preseason, there is no valid reason why Jonathan Grimes is going undrafted in standard 12 team, 15 roster spot formats. His ADP is likely depressed given the late start getting on fantasy players’ radars.

Mike’s Take: Even in 12-team leagues of moderate depth, many of these guys aren’t getting drafted, but you need to know the names so you are ready to grab them off the waiver wire when the time comes a starter goes down. Also refer to our “Not Ranked – On The Radar” section of our RB cheatsheet.

Deep Keeper and IDP League Draft Recap

It’s nearing the end of August, we all know what that means – NFL regular season is almost here! This is the season diehard fantasy football players have been waiting for since the NFL Draft in May. Tons of drafts are on this week and weekend.

For myself and my 8 leagues, I just finished the draft in my favorite league. I finished in the playoffs each of this league’s three years and I won the championship the second year. Here is my draft recap of this league.

A little league information before going on: 14 teams, PPR, Individual Defensive Players (IDP), and it is a relatively deep keeper league. Each owner is required to keep 5 offensive players and 3 defensive players. They then have the option of keeping up to three more players on each of offense or defense, but it would cost draft picks to do so.

To keep one additional offensive player, the owners loses their 1st round pick; keep 2 additional offensive players, lose 1st and 2nd round picks; and keep three additional offensive players, lose 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks. The same rules apply to defensive players, but lose 4th, 5th and 6th round picks.

Even though IDP is a major part of this league, I will only focus on offensive player explanations. Starting rosters are composed of QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, TE, Flex and K.

I kept the following players: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Michael Floyd on offense; Lavonte David, Karlos Dansby and Olivier Vernon on defense. In my opinion, that’s very solid core to start with. My only “locked in” draft strategy was to get a good second running back in the 1st round. Then, I’d have to see who was available and go from there.

Pick 1.12 (1st round, 12th pick): RB Joique Bell, DET

I was hoping for either Rashad Jennings or Joique Bell, and I got my wish! In 2013, the total touches for Bell compared to Reggie Bush were 44% to 56%. Bell had the edge on touchdowns over Bush 8 to 7. I, along with many fantasy experts, believe this is the year Bell surpasses Bush as the lead back in Detroit. Let’s hope we are right.

Pick 2.12: TE Dennis Pitta, BAL

Dennis Pitta was injured in 2013, and he only played in four games. For those four games, he had a stat line of 20 receptions-169 yards-1 touchdown, which is not to shabby considering. A healthy 2014 equates to a big year for Pitta. Not only does Joe Flacco rely on Pitta, but the Baltimore Ravens brought in Gary Kubiak to run the offense and he loves using his tight ends. Since 2008, while in Houston, Kubiak’s tight ends were amongst the most targeted in the league. I expect big things from Pitta this year.

Pick 3.11: DL Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG

Pick 5.05: DB Kenny Vaccaro, NO

Pick 6.12: DB Dawan Landry, NYJ

Pick 7.12: LB Danny Trevathan, DEN

I decided to go with defensive players with high upside potential. Even though Danny Trevathan is hurt, I can throw him on my IR and pick up another linebacker until he comes back.

At this point, I made a trade: I get picks 8.06, 10.06, and 11.06 for Karlos Dansby. Even though Dansby was a Top 5 linebacker last year, I had other players on my radar with more potential.

Pick 8.06: RB Mark Ingram, NO

Mark Ingram is the number one running back in a crowded New Orleans backfield. So far this preseason, he has been showing signs of rejuvenation. He not only could be a great bye-week fill in for Lacy and Bell, since they both have week 9 byes, but he may finally perform to the high expectations from when he was initially drafted.

Pick 8.12: LB Jamie Collins, NE

Pick 9.12: DB Janoris Jenkins, STL

I targeted players that will be on the field every down, which leads to the opportunity for high tackles, sacks, and big plays.

Pick 10.06: QB Blake Bortles, JAC

Already having an elite quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, I was looking to strike lightning in a bottle and possibly have a great trade piece for in-season. Blake Bortles won’t start the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. From what Bortles has shown this preseason, this is his job at the first sign of a struggling Chad Henne. I assumed, when Rodgers reached his bye, Bortles will be starting and I can plug him in to play for the week.

Pick 11.06: RB Bernard Pierce, BAL

A few factors went into this decision: 1., with Ray Rice suspended the first two games of regular season, Bernard Pierce has some value to the Rice owner, so maybe there is potential for a trade, and 2., Rice isn’t a lock for the fulltime starting role, he will likely split carries with Pierce. However, if Pierce does well to open the year against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, which will be no easy feat, the Ravens will have a hard time taking him off the field. I thought this was a great value pick-up.

Pick 11.12: LB Keenan Robinson, WAS

Pick 12.12: DL Kyle Williams, BUF

Pick 13.12: WR DeAndre Hopkins, HOU

I have been seeing many analysts praising Hopkins as he’s having a great preseason. He’s catching everything thrown his way. Playing opposite Andre Johnson, who still warrants double coverage, Hopkins may see one-on-one coverage and he has the speed to blow past those defenders. He is only in his second year in the league. In his rookie year last year, he put up 802 receiving yards but with only two touchdowns. I see him breaking 1,000 yards this year (yes, even with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing to him) and hopefully at least five touchdowns. He could be a potential keeper next year.

Pick 14.12: DB Mike Mitchell, PIT

Pick 15.12: LB Brad Jones, GB

Pick 16.12: K Nick Novak, SD

Pick 17.12: QB Teddy Bridgewater, MIN

Similar to the Blake Bortles selection, Bridgewater should be handed the reigns soon than later for the Minnesota Vikings. In a keeper league this deep, someone may be keen to trade for him if he shows well as a rookie.

Final Roster

QB Aaron Rodgers, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater
RB Eddie Lacy, Joique Bell, Mark Ingram, Bernard Pierce
WR Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Michael Floyd, and DeAndre Hopkins
TE Dennis Pitta
K Nick Novak
DL Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul, Kyle Williams
LB Lavonte David, Brad Jones, Keenan Robinson, Jamie Collins, Danny Trevathan (IR)
DB Janoris Jenkins, Dawan Landry, Kenny Vaccaro, Mike Mitchell

Being a 14-team league, I am very satisfied with this roster. I have an elite quarterback, a Top 5 running back and potentially a few other lead backs, two-Top 5 wide receivers along with two young receivers with big upside, and a very good tight end. Let’s hope this is the formula for another championship run!