20 players the experts like most for fantasy
Over the course of the last month, PFF Fantasy czar Mike Clay has had the opportunity to interview beat reporters from around the NFL on the Pro Football Focus show on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio (10 a.m. ET weekdays – Sirius 210 & XM 87). Beat reporters from 17 different teams have stopped by the show, and they have all dropped fantasy football nuggets perfect for your preseason consumption.
These interviews will continue throughout the regular season, so keep an eye out for them. Optimism shines through in the preseason when hope is eternal. In this piece, we will recap the 20 players the beat reporters are most excited about for the 2015 season.
These are the opinions of the beat reporters and not my own. They have crafted these conclusions from their time spent around the team and at every practice, scrimmage and preseason game.
According to Packers beat reporter Rob Demovsky, Lacy could be the main benefactor of the Jordy Nelson injury. Demovsky noted that Lacy has shown much improved hands this offseason and that the Packers want to use him more on third downs. Demovsky wouldn’t be surprised if Lacy cracks into the upper 50s in receptions this year. Demovsky also mentioned that the Packers might run the ball more this season in Nelson’s absence.
According to Panthers beat reporter David Newton, it’s an easy bet to make that Greg Olsen will lead the Panthers in receptions for a third straight season. In Newton’s estimation, Olsen looks as good or better than he was in his 2014 Pro Bowl season. The Panthers will look to use him in creative ways, and they have already done so in camp. Olsen has lined up out wide, in the slot and as the team’s inline tight end.
Another player David Newton is high on is Jonathan Stewart. Newton believes that Stewart’s usage in 2015 will mirror the stretch run of the 2014 regular season. The Panthers believe that Stewart’s ankle injuries that plagued him during the 2012 and 2013 season are a thing of the past based on his new offseason regimen.
The jury is still out on Funchess, but David Newton believes that he will get every opportunity to prove himself to be Cam Newton’s No. 1 option at wide receiver. Based on what he saw from Funchess before the hamstring injury, Newton believes that Funchess can do a lot of the things that Benjamin was able to do.
According to 49ers beat reporter Kevin Lynch, Hyde’s current ADP is not a good reflection of what his true value will be in 2015. Lynch has been impressed with Hyde so far this offseason. He showed up noticeably quicker and more explosive at 220 pounds after playing his rookie season at 235 pounds. Lynch believes that Hyde is a guy who will be a featured player in an offense that still wants to run a lot. One of the key features of the 49ers’ new offensive scheme is their use of running backs in the passing game, as outlet passes. This is an area Lynch believes Hyde will be featured in.
The Eagles have to replace Jeremy Maclin’s production, and beat reporter Chris McPherson believes that Ertz could play a big role in that task. In fact, he is predicting a breakout season for the third-year tight end. McPherson thinks that after Ertz’s strong offseason, he is primed to become a top-five fantasy football tight end in 2015. McPherson also believes that Ertz’s production will be more consistent week to week, something that was a problem for fantasy owners in 2014. According to McPherson, the Eagles understand how much of a playmaker Ertz can be. Earlier this week, I broke down why Ertz was the most undervalued tight end in 2015 here.
Earning quarterback Jay Cutler’s trust goes a long way for wide receivers in the NFL. Royal has played with Cutler in the past with the Broncos, and the duo picked up right where they left off this offseason and throughout training camp. Bears beat reporter Jeremy Stolz admitted that Royal is generating buzz for good reason. Royal is both quicker and bigger, and Stolz has been “overwhelmed” by how good Royal has looked this offseason.
Before Jeffery’s injury, he was having his most dominant training camp as a Bear. Embracing his new role as the clear No. 1 target with Brandon Marshall out of town, Stolz said that Jeffery was “unstoppable” in camp. Stolz even went on to predict 1,400 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns out of Jeffery in 2015. Jeffery recently injured his calf, but all signs point to him being ready to suit up in Week 1 of the regular season.
If Broncos beat reporter Andrew Mason is right, you’re going to want to draft Owen Daniels as your fantasy football tight end this year. Mason confirmed that Daniels is the clear cut No. 1 tight end in the Broncos’ new offensive scheme, and he could be in line for a major bump in production. According to Mason, Peyton Manning showed trust in Daniels early in camp, and it wouldn’t surprise Mason if Daniels racked up “seven or eight” touchdowns in 2015.
Throughout training camp, Mason has seen the same old Manning. He doesn’t feel like he has seen a quarterback about to hit that wall, and he predicts that we will see Manning put up similar numbers to his 2014 season. In 2014, Manning finished as the QB4 with 4,727 passing yards and 39 touchdowns. Don’t let him slide down your draft board too far.
You can count Cardinals beat reporter Darren Urban as a believer in an Andre Ellington bounce-back season. Urban attributed Ellington’s struggles primarily to injury. He mentioned that Ellington also struggled as a result of the fact that he was unable to practice for most of the 2014 season. Urban points out that Ellington’s trademark explosion has returned, and he believes that he will still operate as the main back in 2015.
Chiefs beat reporter Herbie Teope wants you to believe the hype surrounding Kelce in 2015. Kelce was targeted on roughly 20 percent of the team’s pass attempts in 2014, and Teope believes that number will rise in 2015. Kelce will benefit from a full offseason’s worth of practices after missing last offseason as he recovered from microfracture surgery. Teope points out that Kelce has been a stud throughout camp, and that he will have a breakout season in Andy Reid’s tight end friendly offensive scheme.
According to Teope, Charles was never 100 percent healthy in 2014. He’s back to full health now, and Teope believes that we are going to see the Charles of old. Teope has seen Charles flash that trademark burst and quickness through the hole, that he didn’t see as much of during Charles’ injury-riddled 2014 campaign. With the improvements made on the offensive line, Teope has big expectations for Charles in 2015.
If you’re looking for a last-round flier at tight end, Ebron is your guy. The Lions want the No. 10 overall selection in the 2014 draft to be a big part of the offense, and for the most part he has had an exceptional offseason. Beat reporter Tim Twentyman said that the Lions are expecting big things from Ebron in year two. He’s more comfortable in the offense and the Lions are expecting him to emerge as the third option in the passing game. Twentyman added that Ebron has been making plays over the middle of the field by outrunning safeties down the seam. The Lions believe that he can be a mismatch over the middle of the field when he sees one-on-one matchups. With Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate on the outside, he could see a lot of those matchups.
Chargers beat reporter Michael Gehlken wants you to know that the Stevie Johnson hype is justified. He believes that Johnson will be heavily involved and even see plenty of work when the Chargers are in two wide receiver sets. Philip Rivers and Johnson have developed a nice rapport this offseason.
Witten may be entering his age-33 season, but according to beat reporter Nick Eatman, he looks “stronger than ever” and none of the Cowboys’ safeties have been able to cover him during training camp. He has consistently won both vertically and over the middle, and Eatman even noticed that Witten looks considerably quicker this offseason. The Cowboys could involve Witten in the passing game more in 2015 as they inevitably look to pass more often given the changes at running back.
Another player who Rob Demovsky thinks could benefit from Jordy Nelson’s absence is Richard Rodgers. The third-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft has emerged as the lead tight end, although Andrew Quarless will still see some snaps. Rodgers could see a major uptick in red zone targets, but Demovsky also said that he believes the Packers will get him involved all over the field. In Demovsky’s estimation, he has had one of the best training camps of any Packers offensive player.
Rams beat reporter Nick Wagoner was the first to shed a very positive light on Gurley’s progress in his return from the ACL injury that ended his 2014 collegiate season. Wagoner feels that Gurley will be the team’s lead back before their Week 6 bye week, and he can see them turning over the reins to Gurley in Week 4 or 5.
Before the hype started to really build, Bengals beat reporter Geoff Hobson predicted in late July that Eifert would finish with 60-65 receptions in 2015. Everything we have seen since would suggest that Eifert has evolved into the No. 2 option in the Bengals’ passing game. He could become a major asset in PPR leagues in 2015.
Jones is the ideal complement to A.J. Green, and Hobson says that the Bengals know this. Hobson pointed to Jones’ deep speed as a reason why he can emerge as an excellent flier in fantasy leagues, but the key factor here is what Jones brings to the Bengals’ red zone offense. Nine of his 10 touchdowns in 2013 came in the red zone. Jones has been excellent in that area this offseason and since he joined the Bengals.
Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy and he covers the NFC East beat for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL. You can also add him to your network on Google+ to find all of his past material.