2014 Offseason Fantasy Prediction Review: Part I
Last offseason, I wrote a series of articles that looked at some potential sleepers and players who sparked differing opinions among the fantasy community, and I offered my recommendations. Now that the season is over, I wanted to review those selections to see which were successful and which weren’t, and what, if anything, I could take away from them in anticipation of the 2015 season.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Even though the article was written at the end of July, there weren’t a lot of surprises for the three-time Super Bowl quarterback. His head coach, offensive coordinator, and skill position players were basically all holdovers from the previous season. We knew Roethlisberger would have one of the best wide receivers in the game and a fresh, young running back to help take the pressure off. Here is what I wrote at the time:
“For the final nine games, however, Haley seemed to have finally removed the chains, and the Steelers’ offense improved immensely. The team went 6-3, Roethlisberger threw 20 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, added a rushing touchdown for good measure, and ranked fourth among all quarterbacks.”
Rothlisberger continued along the same lines this season, as he led the NFL in passing yards with nearly 5,000, had 32 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, and finished as the fourth highest scoring quarterback in fantasy ahead of guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady. I also said he should have an improved running game around him with Le’Veon Bell and a healthy offensive line. Bell was the No. 1 running back in fantasy in point per reception leagues and the No. 2 guy in standard leagues in part because of an offensive line that graded as the ninth best in football.
Next season, Roethlisberger could take a small step back. It’s unlikely he leads the league in passing again, especially with the news that Le’Veon Bell will most likely be suspended for the first two games of the season. Still, he should be a solid quarterback option in every format. Unless something drastic changes, 4,000 yards passing with 30 touchdowns is very attainable.
Prediction Grade – A
Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers
Sometimes your predictions are over before they start. Almost everyone expected Ladarius Green to explode in 2014. Antonio Gates was supposedly done, and Green was the healthier and more athletic tight end who was going to take his place. Well, that didn’t happen. Gates must have heard all of the chatter because he went on to have one of the best seasons of his career. In the first two weeks of the season, Gates amassed 17 targets, 13 receptions, 177 yards, and three touchdowns. Green’s numbers during those two games? Two receptions for 24 yards, including a goose egg in Week 2.
“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.”
Green’s late-season trend from 2013 did not hold in 2014. His snaps actually decreased by 74 from the previous season, and his targets went down by 11. He finished the year with just 19 receptions and exactly zero touchdowns. Nothing about this prognostication was correct, and Mr. Gates made a whole lot of fantasy writers put their feet in their mouths, this one included.
Gates will be another year older in 2015, but it’s difficult to expect anything to change given his success into his mid-30s. His career year in 2014 assured he will remain with the team despite an extremely high cap number. Green’s best chance for an increased workload is in 2016 when Gates’ long-term deal expires, but that’s also when Green’s rookie contract is up. For now, Green is little more than a deep-league handcuff for Gates in the case of an injury.
Prediction Grade – F
Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers
2014 was supposed to be the year the 49ers put everything together to bring home the Lombardi trophy, and it was going to come because of Colin Kaepernick and his new pieces in the passing game. Michael Crabtree was healthy, Vernon Davis was coming off a 13-touchdown season, and Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd were new additions, as well. My expectations were high:
“It really was a tale of two halves for Kaepernick last season. In the first 10 games of the season, he ranked 14th overall in total fantasy points with 161, and ninth in points per drop back with 0.53. The rest of the way, those numbers skyrocketed. He was third in total points behind only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees with 120 points, and fifth in points per drop back with 0.60. Meanwhile, that second-half success extended into the playoffs. Kaepernick had 0.64 points per dropback in his three postseason starts. From game 11 through the playoffs, Kaepernick played against four of the top six defenses, with three of those games being away playoff games (six away total). He also played the Seahawks twice, and in the bitter cold of Lambeau Field during wildcard weekend.”
Instead of picking up where he left off, Kaepernick looked uncomfortable in the 49ers pass-focused offense in 2015. He finished as the No. 15 overall quarterback in fantasy with just one rushing touchdown on the year. The rushing production was still there—he was second in the NFL in rushing yards among quarterback—but the struggles getting into the end zone ultimately killed his value. He wasn’t a disaster like Green, but he did not live up to his potential.
Next season is a giant question mark for the 49ers right now, as almost the entire coaching staff was replaced. It looks like the new staff wants Kaepernick to run the ball more and work from a simpler playbook. Both potential changes better fit with his skill set and match the style that made him successful in 2012 with the team. And hopefully those changes can make up for the potential losses of Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis.
Right now, Kaepernick should be avoided in leagues with 12 or fewer teams. In two-quarterback or deeper leagues, he makes for a volatile option that might best be paired with a safer, back-end QB2 like Alex Smith. The upside is still there for Kaepernick, especially if his rushing touchdown luck improves.
Prediction Grade – C
Gary Althiser is a diehard 49ers and San Francisco Giants fan. He feels weird talking about himself in third-person, but if you want to find him, he usually spends his free time on Twitter irrationally arguing about Alex Smith, or sobbing after NFC championship games. @NFLGary