Fantasy football 2014 draft preview: 2nd-, 3rd-year players to watch
The Class of 2012 was one of the greatest fantasy rookie classes of all-time, and while last year’s crop of rookies weren’t as good, they certainly provide plenty of hope in Year 2.
Class of 2013
While Mike Glennon was one of the top rookie quarterbacks last year, he’s not starting this year -- overall, just two sophomores are expected to start in Week 1.
Geno Smith, N.Y. Jets: The arrival of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson should definitely help Smith’s development, but he’ll have to show some improvement in 2014 -- and ramp up the passing touchdowns (12), while also keeping some of the rushing touchdowns (6).
E.J. Manuel, Buffalo: He could be a great bye-week replacement with playmakers like C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins ready to score on every touch.
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Class of 2012
Andrew Luck is on the precipice of joining Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees as an elite QB, and Robert Griffin III, Nick Foles and Russell Wilson each earned fantasy starter status in their first two years. There are several third-year quarterbacks who will start the season as NFL backups, but they could easily become starters
Brock Osweiler, Denver: Peyton Manning is still just a couple years removed from neck surgery, plus he’s close to 40 years old. While the offense would quickly change under Osweiler, it’s still a very good offensive line and stellar skill position players around him.
Brandon Weeden, Dallas: Tony Romo is healthy after offseason back surgery, but if he gets banged up again, the former Browns’ starter will get the starts for Dallas.
Kirk Cousins, Washington: If and when RGIII gets hurt this season, Cousins will work as a fine bye-week replacement.
Case Keenum, Houston: If Ryan Fitzpatrick falters, Keenum gets the keys to an offense with Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Rookie Tom Savage sits behind him.
Top-20 running backs like Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Zac Stacy, Giovani Bernard and Andre Ellington don’t have much higher to go. We’ll see if they can have a better second year than Doug Martin and Trent Richardson, top 2012 rookie RBs who disappointed as sophomores.
Christine Michael, Seattle: Michael will get more snaps in 2014 as Marshawn Lynch’s backup. If the veteran gets hurt, Michael would instantly become a top-12 fantasy running back.
Khiry Robinson, New Orleans: With Darren Sproles in Philadelphia, the Saints are looking for someone to take the reins at tailback. Pierre Thomas may earn the lion’s share of touches early, but Robinson and Mark Ingram will battle it out after that.
Knile Davis, Kansas City: He underwhelmed in a spot start last season, but if Jamaal Charles gets injured again, Davis becomes the featured back on what would be a superstar-less offense.
C.J. Anderson, Denver: If Ball has complications with his return from an appendectomy, C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman will duke it out for starter’s touches.
Stepfan Taylor, Arizona: If Ellington gets hurt, Taylor will get a look as Arizona’s featured tailback, but it’s tough to look at him as more than a late-round pick in deeper leagues.
Mike James, Tampa Bay: If Martin goes down, we’ll see if Bobby Rainey or James (ankle) can run behind that patchwork offensive line in Tampa.
Joseph Randle, Dallas: DeMarco Murray looks for contact, which is part of the reason he’s often injured. Randle would likely be second in line to 2012 rookie Lance Dunbar, however.
Denard Robinson, Jacksonville: Robinson has converted from college quarterback to NFL running back, but Toby Gerhart is starting, and Jordan Todman and rookie Storm Johnson could get snaps, too.
Class of 2012
From a fantasy perspective, this rookie class was the best in history, as Richardson, Martin and Alfred Morris all finished in the top 10 at their position. This class lost a few running backs this past summer, however, with Vick Ballard (Achilles) and David Wilson (neck) out.
Lamar Miller, Miami: He flubbed his chance to be the starter last season, and the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno. But offseason knee surgery for Moreno now has Miller above him on the depth chart.
Bernard Pierce, Baltimore: With Ray Rice suspended for a couple games, Pierce will get a look-see as the starter early, and he could make a case to split touches even when Rice returns.
Ronnie Hillman, Denver: See C.J. Anderson.
Bryce Brown, Buffalo: Both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are free agents after this season, and Brown was picked up this offseason as their possible replacement for 2015.
Robert Turbin, Seattle: Turbin appears to be third in line at tailback in Seattle.
Travaris Cadet, New Orleans: Much like Robinson, Cadet is hoping to earn carries for the Saints. They’re both about the same size, but Cadet is better suited to the passing game.
Class of 2013
While Keenan Allen put together one of the best rookie wide receiver performances in fantasy history, it was a relatively quiet year for the rest of the first-year pass-catchers. With that said, a lot is expected from players like Cordarrelle Patterson, Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Kenny Stills and DeAndre Hopkins. But here are some others to think about.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee: He’s expected to be a red-zone target for Jake Locker, with Kendall Wright working the underneath stuff.
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh: The Steelers envision him taking over Emmanuel Sanders’ spot on the other side of the line from Antonio Brown. Finger injuries limited him in his rookie season, but he has now had two pro training camps to learn.
Marlon Brown, Baltimore: The Ravens brought in Steve Smith to work opposite Torrey Smith, even though Brown scored seven touchdowns last season. He’s a nice waiver pickup if Smith gets hurt.
Robert Woods, Buffalo: While Sammy Watkins is expected to become the main playmaker on this team, they did trade away Stevie Johnson, opening up space for Woods and Mike Williams. Keep in mind: This is just not going to be a great passing team.
Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, New England: Tom Brady has a trio of second-year wide receivers to throw to, along with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and now Brandon LaFell. If Dobson can get past a foot injury, he’s the most talented of the bunch -- veterans or youngsters alike.
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Class of 2012
A pretty good rookie class turned into a stellar sophomore group, led by Josh Gordon. But his suspension, along with Justin Blackmon’s, makes this group less than what it could have been. Imagine if Gordon and Blackmon were playing, along with third-year receivers like Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and T.Y. Hilton.
Jarrett Boykin, Green Bay: The Packers drafted a few receivers this season, but Boykin performed well enough in Randall Cobb’s place last year that he should start the season as Rodgers’ third-favorite target.
Rod Streater, Oakland: A sleeper for many writers, Streater looks like he’ll be lining up along with James Jones as a starter. Unfortunately, they need the Raiders’ quarterbacks to come through on their end.
Rueben Randle, N.Y. Giants: When the Giants drafted Odell Beckham this past May, things began to look grim for the inconsistent Randle’s 2014 breakout.
Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati: Marvin Jones was expected to pass Sanu on the depth chart this season, but a broken foot will force him to miss most of the first month of the season.
Chris Givens and Brian Quick, St. Louis: There’s only room for one other starter opposite Kenny Britt, and it looks like Quick is in the lead. Austin will continue to work the slot.
Cole Beasley, Dallas: With Miles Austin in Cleveland, targets are available after Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams get theirs. Beasley should get plenty of looks in the slot from Romo.
Rishard Matthews, Miami: He’ll work in the receiver rotation for Miami, but the addition of rookie Jarvis Landry muddles his outlook a bit.
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Class of 2013
Sophomore tight ends have been a great source for breakout players, and these players are certainly candidates in 2014.
Jordan Reed, Washington: A concussion cut his season short, but had it not, he likely would have finished ahead of Tim Wright as the best rookie tight end in fantasy.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia: Chip Kelly will get Ertz a little more involved, especially with DeSean Jackson in Washington and Jeremy Maclin coming back from a torn ACL.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati: Hue Jackson is the new offensive coordinator for the Bengals, so we expect Eifert to see a little more action in this offense. Jermaine Gresham is in a contract year, and he likely won’t be back in 2015.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City: Knee surgery kept him off the field in his rookie season, but he’s healthy now, and Dwayne Bowe’s suspension should get Alex Smith looking toward Kelce early and often.
Tim Wright, Tampa Bay: The best fantasy rookie tight end since Rob Gronkowski was rewarded in the offseason … when the Buccaneers signed Brandon Myers and drafted Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Class of 2012
A pretty quiet group, this group of tight ends has much better days ahead of them.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis: A torn ACL kept Allen sidelined last year, but when he’s healthy, he’s one of Andrew Luck’s favorites. He currently sits as a top-15 tight end in fantasy, with a chance of breaking into the top 10.
Coby Fleener, Indianapolis: Allen’s injury should have opened the door wide open for Fleener, but he scored more than 10 fantasy points in just four games last year.
Ladarius Green, San Diego: The baton will likely be passed from fantasy star Antonio Gates over to Green at some point this season.
Sports Illustrated's lead fantasy writer Michael Beller reveals his top three picks headed into the 2014 fantasy football season.