Fantasy football 2014 five-minute guide: One sheet to rule them all
This originally ran in the Aug. 4, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Five breakout wideouts
Latch on: They'll catch on quick
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers -- With Emmanuel Sanders off to Denver, the 79th pick in the 2013 draft will be the No. 2 opposite Antonio Brown. Wheaton’s similar in stature to Sanders and should thrive in his place. He showed stat-busting potential in his last year at Oregon State: 91 catches for 1,244 yards and 11 TDs.
Jarrett Boykin, Green Bay Packers -- Undrafted in 2012, Boykin flashed some promise when injuries created opportunities last year; he caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three scores. He could flourish in a full season as the No. 3 receiving option for a healthy Aaron Rodgers.
Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints -- Fantasywise, it always makes sense to target a New Orleans target, and the team needs some new blood at receiver after losing Lance Moore in free agency. The Saints didn’t draft Cooks out of Oregon State with the No. 20 pick so that he could languish on the sideline.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans -- Andre Johnson is unhappy, leaving a window this preseason for the second-year man out of Clemson to make the splash that many expected in 2013. Hopkins has the speed to stretch the field and, at 6' 1" and 218 pounds, enough size to be a weapon in the red zone.
Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos -- He may not get starter’s reps right away, but he’s bound to get plenty of work in Denver’s aggressive offense. A second-round pick, Latimer had 72 catches for 1,096 yards and nine scores as a junior at Indiana.
Five catch-all offenses
Pretty much anyone on these teams is worth the investment
Denver BRONCOS -- Peyton Manning set single-season TD and yardage records last year; Knowshon Moreno was among the most productive fantasy backs; and the offense scored 37.9 points per game, easily the NFL’s best. Montee Ball will replace Moreno; Emmanuel Sanders should slide in fluidly for Eric Decker. Spend heavily here.
Green Bay PACKERS -- Even with Aaron Rodgers missing seven games, Green Bay was eighth in the NFL in points scored. With arguably the best player in the NFL healthy, this O has plenty of fantasy lovin’ to spread around to the likes of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and Eddie Lacy.
Chicago BEARS -- Chicago scored the second-most points in the league last year (27.8) and has potentially the best group of skill players with RB Matt Forte lining up alongside WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. That leaves it all up to Jay Cutler -- and despite what you might think, that’s a good thing.
New Orleans SAINTS -- To death and taxes, add this: the Saints putting up crazy points. So long as Drew Brees is slinging in New Orleans, this is going to be a potent unit—even without a traditional running game. For at least one more season, fantasy owners should remain bullish on this attack.
Philadelphia EAGLES -- Year 1 of the Chip Kelly Experience was a success, with LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles (a midseason switch-up) leading Philly to 27.6 points per game. A healthy Jeremy Maclin will offset the loss of DeSean Jackson, and there’ll be valuable players beyond that top tier.
Five indispensable inside men
Favor the QBs who throw the most often near the goal line.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos -- He attempted 7.9% of his passes last year inside the 10-yard line, leading the league with 52 such tosses, and connected for touchdowns on 33.6% of his red zone throws.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers -- In eight games Rodgers threw 7.6% of his passes inside the 10 and was 29 for 46 with 11 touchdowns inside the 20. He’s long been one of the most efficient red zone passers, and don’t forget: He’s a threat to run it in, too.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys -- Romo had 36 attempts (7.3%) inside the 10. Given his propensity to throw near the goal line -- and his Stickum-handed targets, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten -- Romo is almost always a bargain.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons -- Yes, 2013 was essentially a lost year for Ryan (7.1% inside the 10), but he’ll likely find his old form in ’14. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, both A-list red zone weapons, are healthy, which makes Ryan a top five fantasy quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers -- Expect Big Ben (6.7% inside the 10) to throw even more frequently near the goal line thanks to Le’Veon Bell, one of the league’s top pass-catching backs.
Five bounce-back guys
Bums in 2013, ballers in '14
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Sure, he struggled before a shoulder injury in Week 7. But Tampa retooled its NFL-worst offense in the draft, which should help the Muscle Hamster get back on the productive course he set during a big rookie season. He was a top five pick in 2013 for a reason.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots -- That Brady was so -successful last year, with so many new weapons, is proof that he’s still got it, even at 36. His value in 2014 will hinge on the health of Rob Gronkowski, and while that’s always a risk, Brady will shoot right back into fantasy prominence if Gronk can play a dozen or so games.
Steve Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens -- The 35-year-old is clearly in the twilight of his career; he caught just four passes of 20-plus yards last year. But now he pairs with Joe Flacco, who, for all his failings as a quarterback, has always thrown a nice deep ball. This seems
like a perfect fit for both players.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis Colts -- >Nicks is just a few years removed from back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and yet he had become an afterthought in New York. He should find a happy new home with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills -- He has only topped 1,000 rushing yards or four rushing touchdowns once in his four pro seasons, yet Spiller’s talent is undeniable. He may never be an every-down back, but he doesn’t have to be if he’s getting 15+ touches per game.