Ranking the top 15 fantasy football sophomores for 2014
Over the past month or so, we've been hearing all about the rookies who will join the 2014 Fantasy game. But how quickly we forget about last year's rookies, who made us much happier by season's end than we expected.
Will they be just as good as sophomores, or underperform and leave us disappointed? Their predecessors, -- the sophomores of 2013 -- took a major step back from one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history. Players like Doug Martin, Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Daryl Richardson, David Wilson and Justin Blackmon were major disappointments as sophomores, due to injury, bad play and other reasons. However, some sophomore QBs and WRs were pretty impressive, including Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery and Kendall Wright.
With this in mind, we thought ranking the Class of 2013 entering this season would be a good idea. Let's hope we see the already successful 2013 freshmen stay productive, and the promising ones continue to develop in 2014.
Top 15 Fantasy Football Sophomores for 2014
These rankings are based on standard scoring formats in 12-team non-PPR leagues.
1. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay: The rookie out of Alabama entered the preseason expecting to share carries in the Packers' backfield with fellow rookie running back Johnathan Franklin. But Lacy quickly set himself apart, and he finished as the only rookie running back to rush for over 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. The Packers are talking about a more balanced offense this season, which bodes well for Lacy. He's a first-round pick in all leagues.
2. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh: Was there a better fit last season than the Steelers drafting Michigan State's big back to take over for Rashard Mendenhall? While Bell had one of the lowest yards per carry of any of the top rookies (3.5), he did pick up the second-most first downs among first-year players. This past offseason, the Steelers signed LeGarrette Blount, who played the big back role for the Patriots on the ground last season. Blount should get fewer than 10 carries per game, but where those carries happen (inside the five-yard line?) will have a big effect on Bell's fantasy value. Either way, this Steelers "Lebackfield" is going to be powerful.
3. Montee Ball, RB, Denver: Ball is receiving a ton of draft season hype, now that Knowshon Moreno has taken his talents to South Beach. The second-year back out of Wisconsin emerged late last year, picking up 337 yards on 52 carries in the final six games. But it's his ability to pick up blitzers and also catch the ball out of the backfield that will be the reason he starts, and the reason he'll likely be a second-round pick in fantasy leagues this season.
4. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis: While Stacy did more with less than Lacy last season, he enters 2014 with Auburn RB Tre Mason behind him on the depth chart. Stacy entered last season behind a group of Rams running backs, including both 2012 rookie running backs, Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. So the Rams added Mason, their fourth running back in the past three drafts, but Stacy proved to be a workhorse, picking up most of his stats after Week 4. His fantasy points per game ranked among the best, and a case could easily be made that he should be taken higher than Ball and Bell.
5. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati: Bernard's 56 receptions last season led all rookie running backs, and only seven veteran RBs had more catches in 2013. No doubt, he's going to get more than 170 carries this season in new Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's offense. Bernard reminds us of a younger LeSean McCoy, and seeing that No. 25 dart in and out doesn't hurt that comparison at all.
6. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego: While Allen is the first sophomore wide receiver we expect to get drafted in fantasy leagues, understand that sophomore WRs are more apt to improve in their second season than running backs. Allen had a great season in San Diego, but his offensive coordinator is now coaching in Tennessee (Ken Whisenhunt), and the Chargers are expected to run the ball more in 2014. Expecting a big increase in production out of Allen might be over-reaching, but owners will be happy with another 1,000-yard season and eight or more touchdown catches.
7. Andre Ellington, WR, Arizona: One of the best rookie sleepers last season, the Clemson product averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and he totaled 39 catches for 371 yards in the desert. The good news for 2014 is that Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians sees Ellington getting 25-30 touches per game this season. The bad news, though, is that Ellington didn't get more than 17 touches in any game last year. As a matter of fact, the 5-foot-9 back was used cautiously, getting over a dozen touches in just five games. He reminds me of Warrick Dunn, which makes me like him as an RB2 if you can get him in Round 4.
8. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota: Patterson is getting a lot of fantasy love this offseason, especially since new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner hopes to turn him into this year's version of Josh Gordon, who Turner coached last season. It remains to be seen whether Patterson can do this, considering he came into 2013 as a project and the passing offense around him is still a big question mark. But he was drafted in the fourth and fifth rounds of the three expert mock drafts I did last month. That seems high for an unproven receiver.
9. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington: One of the best rookie stories last year, the former Gators tight end produced fantasy starter stats half of the games he played. Unfortunately, a concussion limited him to just nine games. When he plays, he has RGIII's attention, and the addition of DeSean Jackson could help open up space for Reed underneath. But you'll likely have to roll the dice on his health in the middle rounds, after the superstar tight ends are gone. Luckily, there should be plenty of good tight ends available on the waiver wire if Reed does get hurt.
10. Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans: Robinson emerged late last season as a reliable weapon in the Saints' backfield, and now, with Darren Sproles in Philadelphia, the 220-pound back should see even more touches. However, he wasn't thrown to once last year, so he's limited a bit behind Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram. Bump him up a few rounds in dynasty leagues, though, as Thomas and Ingram are free agents after this season.
11. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas: At one point in the middle of the season, Williams scored five touchdowns in six weeks. While he didn't score again for the rest of the season, he should start 2014 as the starter on the other side of Dez Bryant, now that Miles Austin is in Cleveland. Since 2007, we've seen 16 rookie running backs score starter's points (top 24 RBs) by season's end, and we've seen 21 sophomore RBs score starter's points in that same span. In those same seven seasons, there were only 16 rookie receivers with starter's points (top-36 WRs), but that number blew up for sophomores, with 36 second-year players scoring starter's points.
12. Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans: Had the Saints not drafted speedster Brandin Cooks in May, Stills would have climbed a few spots, since Lance Moore moved to Pittsburgh. Even so, Stills is one of the most sure-handed receivers in the league already, and he stretches the field with over 20 yards per catch. Expect Drew Brees to throw more passes Stills' way in 2014. Drafting him in Round 9 or later is solid value.
13. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston: It hurts me to rank him this low, as I really do think he could become one of the best receivers out of this class. But he's entering 2014 with a slew of backup quarterbacks fighting to be the starter (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates and rookie Tom Savage), and the offensive system is changing under new head coach Bill O'Brien, who was once an offensive coordinator with the Patriots. If the Texans can do anything that resembles New England's offense, Hopkins could explode.
14. Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis: No doubt, many fantasy owners will enter 2014 with a bad taste in their mouths from spending a pick on Austin near Round 7 last summer. Rams coach Jeff Fisher promises to use Austin more this season, and the diminutive receiver certainly has joystick talent. He's worthy of a sleeper pick, with Percy Harvin and DeSean Jackson upside.
15. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia: While the tight end position has plenty of worthy players to choose in the later rounds, Ertz is one of the few with top-five upside in future seasons. Chip Kelly's offense was revved up last season, and the second-year head coach promises to speed it up even more in 2014. Jackson's departure for Washington and Jeremy Maclin's return from a knee injury makes Ertz a very important player for QB Nick Foles this season. From 2007-2013, just three rookie tight ends scored starter's points (top 12) by the end of the season. But there were 10 sophomores in that span that scored top-12 stats. Ertz has a chance to follow other sophomore breakout TEs like Owen Daniels, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Some other sophomores expected to do some fantasy damage in 2014: Knile Davis, RB, Kansas City; Aaron Dobson, WR, New England; Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee; Marcus Lattimore, RB, San Francisco; Christine Michael, RB, Seattle; Levine Toilolo, TE, Atlanta; Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh and Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo.