I know what you’re thinking: “It’s too early to be talking fantasy football, my girlfriend already has the next 12 weekends of my life booked with apple picking and craft shows.” Fair enough. I’m sure you’re either still glowing in your championship glory, disappointed in your underachievement, or trying to forget that you passed up Jamaal Charles for C.J. Spiller with the No. 3 overall pick in your work league. That last statement is certainly nothing I did in 2013. I have also been known to fib on occasion. But, now is as good a time as any to get the wheels turning for 2014.
For the serious fantasy player, it’s never too early to think about next season, and part of the fun in fantasy football is getting a leg up on your opponents by researching early and often. Every fantasy season is filled with surprises, and the 2013 season was no different. Last summer it would have been nice to have guys on your draft board like that second-year player who played on one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL and still led the league in receiving after a two-game suspension; or Mike Vick’s backup, who not only led the league in passer rating, but also had one of the best runs at the position in NFL history; or LaDainian Tomlinson’s replacement, who not only finally looked like a reliable fantasy starter, but would also be a top-five back during the playoffs.
All three did so because of opportunities that came for various reasons – mainly coaching changes – but their paths were set before that in the talent they flashed when given chances. I’m going to put together a series of pieces on players from current rosters that could be drafted at a value in next year’s fantasy drafts. These guys may not be available in all dynasty leagues, but they should be available in almost all redraft leagues.
In late January it’s impossible to predict whether these players will get a bigger role or be downgraded because of rookies, a new scheme, guys coming off injuries, or free agent signings, but there are plenty of players who showed flashes of potential in 2013 that could carry over to 2014 success.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers were a fantasy player’s dream in 2013. Philip Rivers returned to form, Ryan Mathews finally came through for those patient (or desperate) enough to draft him, Danny Woodhead became a point per reception player’s dream for most of the season, and Keenan Allen thankfully changed his mind on a music career.
The Chargers’ offense flourished under Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt’s direction. The team ranked in the top five in total and pass offense, as well as top-13 on the ground. Most of the latter thanks to Mathews averaging over 100 yards per game in the final seven games of the season. Mathews and Allen both went over 1,000 yards, Rivers threw for nearly 4,500 yards and 32 touchdowns, and Woodhead did his best Darren Sproles impersonation with 76 catches.
Chances are you’re not going to get any of those four guys at a value in your next draft. Depending on how deep your roster is, they’re all most likely gone in dynasty leagues, and in redraft leagues they’ll be on everyone’s radar. You may be able to snatch Woodhead up in a redraft league for a value, but if it’s not a PPR league you’ll probably be best suited going in another direction.
The one position I didn’t mention yet is tight end. We all know who Antonio Gates is at this point in his career. He’s a guy who can give you some of the best production at the position, but he’s getting older and is seen as the Mr. Glass of the Chargers’ roster. While he may very well be the guy who helped you win a handful of championships from 2004 – 2011, he’s not the same player he used to be.
Gates’ stats were still pretty good in 2013 all things considered, but if you watched him play he didn’t look like a guy with much left in the tank. The former Kent State Golden Flash ranked 133rd of 135 NFL tight ends in run blocking according to PFF, and he dropped nearly nine percent of the catchable balls thrown his way. McCoy and company have to see him as a liability in the running game, and it’s obvious to everyone that his route running and pass catching skills are deteriorating.
While Gates and Rivers have great chemistry together, his replacement may already be on the roster.
When dealing with a small sample size, you always run the risk of sabotaging a set of data. Just because a guy looked good for a half an hour doesn’t mean he’s the next Vernon Davis. Green’s sample size is small, but he’s got several things working in his favor, one of which is that he made the most of every opportunity. The numbers and rankings from some important fantasy categories speak for themselves:
The best thing about PFF fantasy stats is that you get a full scope of a player’s worth that you won’t get anywhere else. As you can see, Green absolutely took hold of every opportunity he was given. He ranked first in both standard and PPR leagues in point per opportunity. To give you some context as to how hard that is for a tight end to do, Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski, and Jimmy Graham – the only three tight ends worth their roster spot in most fantasy leagues – are the next three players in both categories. Green also ranks in the top five in points per snap in both PPR and standard formats. It would be hard to be ranked that high in such important categories and have it be a fluke.
If you need more proof that Green is a legit breakout candidate, look at his grades and ranks from PFF premium stats:
The Louisiana-Lafayette star ranks in the top 10 in yards after catch per reception, average depth per aimed throw, overall tight end grade, and receiving tight end grade. He also did all of this while logging the second fewest snaps of any top 10 overall tight end during the regular season, 370. To put that into perspective, Gates logged 996 snaps – the fifth most in the league – and ranked as the 46th overall tight end with a -5.3 grade. Panthers blocking tight end Ben Hartsock recorded just 324 snaps while ranking fourth overall.
Again, the sample size of Green’s work is small. He recorded just 34 targets, 22 receptions, and four touchdowns on the season, including the playoffs. But, to his defense, in weeks one through 10 the most snaps he logged was 22, and in three of those nine weeks he combined for just 16 snaps. It wasn’t until week 11 that he started to see his snaps and pass targets increase.
|Week||Snaps||% of Snaps||Targets||Rec.||Yds||TDs|
|1||9 / 55||0.16||1||0||0||0|
|2||12 / 84||0.14||0||0||0||0|
|3||20 / 59||0.33||2||2||48||0|
|4||3 / 74||0.04||0||0||0||0|
|5||11 / 75||0.14||1||0||0||0|
|6||16 / 78||0.20||1||1||25||0|
|7||21 / 74||0.28||2||2||40||0|
|9||4 / 66||0.06||1||1||10||0|
|10||22 / 75||0.29||1||1||25||0|
|11||20 / 65||0.30||5||4||81||0|
|12||29 / 72||0.40||5||3||80||1|
|13||61 / 67||0.91||6||2||45||1|
|14||31 / 75||0.41||0||0||0||0|
|15||46 / 73||0.63||0||0||0||0|
|16||33 / 75||0.44||1||0||0||0|
|17||32 / 73||0.43||2||1||22||1|
|WC||50 / 59||0.84||3||3||34||1|
|DP||30 / 52||0.57||3||2||7||0|
The Chargers ended the regular season as a running team, and the strategy got them into the playoffs. They went 4-0 while averaging 163 yards on the ground per game, including an upset win at Mile High in Denver. It’s no wonder Green’s targets went down while his snaps stayed consistent during the last quarter of the season.
Gates has the fourth-highest average tight end salary in the league, and is under contract for two more seasons. The Chargers could save $2.6 million in 2014, and $5.9 million in 2015, by cutting him outright. He most certainly won’t be a part of the team in 2015 with that kind of a cap number, but it’s hard to say what will happen this upcoming season. The team has the fifth-highest salary in the NFL in 2014, so the extra cap space could be something they’re seriously looking at.
Whether the Chargers cut Gates or not, Green looks to have the potential to take over the role occupied by Gates for the better part of a decade. If so, the 6’6, 240 pounder has the size, speed, quarterback, and coaching staff to take him to the next level. That’s also not mentioning that he plays at the most shallow position in all of fantasy football. He’s worth a look during your 2014 draft.
When players should be drafted is tough to say eight months before the season starts. As always, it depends on several questions that only you can answer: what are the personalities of your league mates, the needs of your team, the risks you’re willing to take, etc. As the season gets closer, gauge where your needs are, listen to the chatter from your league mates, and keep yourself abreast to updated mock drafts. And as always, don’t fall in love with one guy. It’s rarely ever worth sacrificing the progress of your draft for a guy that pulls at the heart strings. See also: C.J. Spiller.