To kick off the update of our dynasty rankings – which now feature the opinions of Mike Clay, Pat Thorman, Joey Cartolano, and me – I thought I’d run through a quick Q&A. Part one covered quarterbacks and tight ends. Part two covers running backs and receivers. With free agency heating up and the draft looming, look for our rankings to receive regular updates though the offseason.
Mike, you’re relatively low on Le’Veon Bell. What are your thoughts on him?
Mike from his Rotoworld article:
Le’Veon Bell is an interesting case study. On one hand, he was a second-round pick one year ago and Pittsburgh immediately installed him as their feature back. That led to a massive volume of touches (289 in 13 games to be exact) and eight touchdowns. On the other hand, Bell averaged a miserable 3.5 yards-per-carry and failed to score on any of his 275 touches from 10-plus yards away from the end zone. That sounds a lot like Trent Richardson circa 2012. Bell is only 22 and the team’s clear feature back heading into 2014, but it’s fair to wonder if he has the talent to keep the job long term.
I’m the only ranker to have Zac Stacy in my top 10. Here is why I like him more than the others:
Scott: Stacy is a no-frills runner, which is perfect to anchor an offense with players like Tavon Austin and Chris Givens, who can be explosive in the right roles but are not built to carry an offense. Stacy piled up 275 touches from the fifth game to the end of the season with few signs of wear, and while his workload was, at times, alarmingly large, that will hopefully be tempered with a healthy Sam Bradford. His 2.45 yards after contact per attempt fell just short of Marshawn Lynch and was 14th of 49 qualified backs.
Pat, you have C.J. Spiller in your top 10, even after his disappointing 2013. In particular, I’m interested in your thoughts on his workload in 2014.
Pat: Spiller represents a bargain relative to his enormous upside. He was barely healthy, and even dinged, he showed glimpses of the explosiveness that earned him first round status in 2013 drafts. Buffalo attempted more runs (by nearly 40 over the second place team) than anyone last year despite having Spiller on the shelf for stretches. They run an up-tempo offense and have an improving defense.
It’s conceivable they may even surpass last year’s huge rushing attempts total if they are in tighter games. Spiller averaged nearly 19 touches (18.75) in the four games before hurting his ankle, which projects to 300 in a full season. Despite often playing hobbled, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry after posting 6.0 and 5.2 the previous two years. Even conservative projections put him in, or very near, top 10 RB status. He doesn’t turn 27 until the summer and has little wear on his tires.
Joey, you are the highest of the group on Christine Michael. What are your expectations for his workload over the next several seasons?
Joey: I think Michael will start eating into Robert Turbin’s reserve role significantly this year, with the expectation that he will be the starter some time in 2015. Owners need to be patient. I don’t see a backfield time share in Seattle’s future while Marshawn Lynch is still standing, which I would be willing to bet is through 2014.
The drop off will be steep when it does happen, though, meaning Michael should quickly step into a featured role. With the former Texas A&M Aggie poised to vault himself up rankings with another stellar preseason and Pete Carroll recently lauding Michael’s potential, now is the time to buy.
Pat and Joey, do you believe Lamar Miller can be a long-term featured back in Miami?
Pat: Miller has shown enough while operating behind an abysmal offensive line, and on PFF’s 29th graded run blocking team, to at least keep him in play as a potential long-term option. Poor blocking and the fact that Miami passed nearly 60 percent of the time in 2013 hurt Miller more than a lack of talent.
With former Eagles’ coach Bill Lazor presumably bringing a more run-heavy offense and the Dolphins upgrading their line, conditions will be much more favorable for Miller. His ranking reflects those improvements as well as Miller’s upside versus others slotted in his vicinity.
Joey: It would seem as though the only thing holding Miller back is his own coaching staff, who has stubbornly shared his workload with the pedestrian Daniel Thomas despite Miller’s above average 4.2 career yards per carry average.
The Dolphins have a new coaching staff, and it could be the change that Miller needs to start seeing more playing time. He is too undersized to be a true every down back, but he showed progress as a receiver last year (26 receptions) and has the potential to be the lead dog in a slight committee moving forward.
Mike, you have a very different opinion on Jordy Nelson than the rest of us. What worries you about him?
Mike: Nelson is 29, the Packers offense is going to lean more on the run near the end zone, and Cobb is an emerging stud. I also expect Green Bay to add some talent at tight end and at the fourth receiver spot.
I’m the lone ranker to have Michael Crabtree outside his top 20. Here are my thoughts:
Scott: A top 20 ranking of Michael Crabtree has to hang its hat on his second-half production from 2012. Yes, his 665 yards and six touchdowns made him a top five fantasy receiver over that stretch, but Crabtree has spent the rest of his five-year career disappointing fantasy owners. He still has just one season with 900-plus yards and seven-plus touchdowns.
That happened to be the one in which Colin Kaepernick took over as the starter in San Francisco, but Kaepernick finished just 20th in 2013 with 416 pass attempts. It will be difficult for Crabtree to repeat that 130-target pace on such a run-focused team, especially since Vernon Davis continues to be the biggest receiving mismatch on the team.
Conversely, I’m the only ranker to have Larry Fitzgerald in my top 20, and I have him 10th. Here’s why:
Scott: I completely understand the conservative rankings of my peers here as Fitzgerald has perhaps underperformed his draft status three of the last four seasons. I do not expect him to finish even this season in the top 10 at the position, and he will turn 31 in the weeks leading up to the 2014 season. I would still reach for Fitzgerald because he is probably the safest receiver outside of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall.
He has not missed a game since 2006 and has had at least 80 receptions in six of the last seven seasons. He continues to be hurt by subpar quarterback play and the difficult defenses in his division, but I think he’s almost assuredly a top 20 receiver for the next several seasons, and that makes him an attractive player to pair with the abundance of upside plays outside of the top 30 at the position.
Which second-year receiver not in the Keenan Allen-DeAndre Hopkins-Cordarrelle Patterson trio do you expect to step forward this season?
Joey: I think this is a two horse race between Terrance Williams and Markus Wheaton. Both should be stepping into starting roles with their positional incumbents entering unrestricted free agency. I expect Williams to produce more early due to his first year experience advantage over Wheaton, who essentially had a lost rookie season due to finger injuries.
Williams produced like a legit WR2 for several weeks this year. Wheaton, who dripped of professional potential at Oregon State, should catch up quickly though. He is a perfect fit for Ben Roethlisberger’s improvisational style of play, excelling at creating space for himself in the open field.
Pat: While I expect the Rams to better use Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and Justin Hunter has the most pure upside, I expect Aaron Dobson to make the biggest leap if his foot proves healthy enough to participate in camps. He has, by far, the best quarterback of the four.
If he can work with Tom Brady during the offseason to fully get on the same page, he will be the most physically-gifted outside receiver the Patriots have had since Randy Moss. I still prefer Hunter in startup drafts, but for 2014 alone I side with (a healthy) Dobson.
Scott: The name Miles Austin still carries some cache, but he has fallen short of 1,000 yards for three straight seasons and will turn 30 this summer. The Cowboys recently opted to release him, and his days as an impact receiver are behind him.
Terrance Williams, meanwhile, was quietly the third most productive rookie receiver in 2013 with 736 yards and five touchdowns. That is more or less the rookie season Josh Gordon had a year earlier, and while Williams isn’t his physical equal and shares the field with Dez Bryant, a leap into the top 20 would not be surprising this year.
Mike: Aaron Dobson, Justin Hunter, and Terrance Williams all have great opportunities. I think Dobson has the highest 2014 ceiling.
Who is your favorite running back or wide receiver deep sleeper? And give me one sentence that best explains why he could succeed.
Scott: Marlon Brown had 49 receptions for 524 yards and seven scores in 2013. His 94.2 standard fantasy points trailed just Kenny Stills, Terrance Williams, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Keenan Allen among rookie receivers, and that was despite missing two games. As Torrey Smith continues to be a deep threat (15.9-yard aDOT), I expect Brown (10.7-yard aDOT) to pass Smith in receptions this season thanks to a near 10 percent edge in catch percentage.
Pat: Lance Dunbar will thrive in Scott Linehan’s offense if DeMarco Murray, who is in a contract year and has not been offered an extension by the cap-strapped Cowboys, misses time due to injury.
Joey: Everyone is focused on Cordarrelle Patterson, but it will be the recently turned 30 year old Greg Jennings who plays Josh Gordon’s role in Norv Turner’s vertical offense.
Scott Spratt was named Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He also writes for RotoGraphs and contributes to ESPN Insider as a research associate for Baseball Info Solutions. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @PFF_ScottSpratt
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