After months of build up, the hurricane that is the NFL Draft has blown over and now it’s time to look ahead for the 2014 fantasy football season. We’ve written extensively about the rookie class, but with new information (where they were drafted) we can begin to update our assessments. This article is for fantasy football players who are trying to get up to speed on these new faces and/or understand their fantasy relevance for 2014 redraft leagues. This shouldn’t be viewed as absolute rankings, but rather a general prioritization based on talent and landing spot. Much more to come this summer. Enjoy!
1) Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints
Before the draft I said that Brandin Cooks deserves consideration as the best small-WR prospect in the last decade. Now that he’s been drafted by the New Orleans Saints, it feels like a near lock that he’ll be a fantasy football dynamo in 2014 and for years to come. In other words, buy Brandin Cooks stock anywhere you can. He’s small, but ran a blazing 40 time. He’ll be the youngest rookie receiver since at least 2006. His closest comparison is probably Percy Harvin, but with better receiving skills. And did I mention that he has the best Phenom Index score of all 2014 receivers? With Darren Sproles and Lance Moore out of the picture, Cooks seems like a prime candidate to dominate the Saint’s short passing game, while also getting a few carries and possibly contributing in the return game–points from every direction! He might not have the highest upside of the 2014 rookie receivers, but I think he’s the safest bet to deliver the top 2014 fantasy season of the group.
2) Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
Our top ranked receiver landed in a phenomenal situation in Tampa Bay. Following in the footsteps of Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd and DeAndre Hopkins, Evans will get to learn from an elite veteran receiver while immediately sliding into a starting role (I’ll write more on this Batman-Robin trend in the near future). Although he looks different than recent highly drafted receivers, there’s a lot to like here. For starters, he’s so big, fast and explosive that it’s really hard to even generate comparisons. He’s going to get a ton of targets in the high-scoring NFC South and in college he posted an otherworldly 14 yards per target. You do the math. He’ll benefit from having VJax to draw coverage away from him. It’s an added bonus that the Bucs draw the NFC North this year, which should lead to many high scoring games and fantasy points for Evans.
3) Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans
The recipe for fantasy football success is, rougly, talent + opportunity. In the case of Bishop Sankey, he was our top-ranked rookie RB and landed in great situation in Tennessee; CJ2K is gone and only 29 year old Shonn Greene stands between Sankey and a full time gig. So why should you be excited about Sankey? For starters, he is a fantastic athlete and has shockingly good comparables. He also has a history of single-handedly carrying a rushing offense on his back. But don’t worry about Bishop breaking down, Sankey is a workhorse, who never missed a game or a practice at Washington. The cherry on top is that the Titans have invested heavily in their offensive line recently. If you want to complain that defenses will stack the box because Jake Locker kinda stinks, that’s fine, but I would contend that Locker’s shortcomings will be Sankey’s gains. If there’s one rookie running back that you must-know for fantasy football 2014, it’s Bishop Sankey.
4) Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills
The case for Sammy Watkins in fantasy football is an easy one and goes something like this: he’s going to get a ton of playing time and a ton of targets and should score a good amount of points. Furthermore, he is in a rare group of receivers who were drafted in the top 5, many of whom have had great NFL careers. For most of the draft lead-up, the RotoViz guys have been a little harsh on whether or not Watkins was truly deserving of being such a high pick, even going as far as calling him an arbitrary superstar. And while his career might end up short of expectations, there’s little doubt that he’s an instant-impact rookie for 2014.
5) Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles
Without knowing anything else, if you just told me that the Philadelphia Eagles drafted a receiver in the 2nd round, I would be ecstatic about that player. Why? For starters, it would mean that receivers gets to catch passes from the incomparable Nick Foles. It would also mean that they have a clear path to playing time, with only Riley Cooper and a hopefully-healthy Jeremy Maclin ahead of them. That said, knowing that the Eagles drafted Jordan freakin’ Matthews has me wanting to do backflips. For starters, Jordan Matthews is unbelievably similar to Sammy Watkins. I know that sounds crazy, but just read it. Now consider that Matthews dominated more games than any receiver in the last ten years, while also outperforming Mike Evans against common foes, and you start to get the picture of an elite talent who is now paired with a great quarterback and playing in an elite offense. Even if Matthews is only the Eagles #3 option in 2014, that’s still enough for him to pay dividends to your fantasy team.
Note: As an organization, the Eagles are leaving the New York Giants in the dust.
6) Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Buccaneers
Quite simply, I think ASJ is the most dominant young tight end prospect since Rob Gronkowski. Whoa, Jon, what makes you say that?! On 38 career red zone targets, ASJ scored 19 touchdowns which is far better than Eric Ebron or any other TE prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. And do you know what separates the elite NFL tight ends from everyone else? It’s their ability to score touchdowns. Although ASJ flew somewhat under the radar due to a foot injury, it looks like he’s finally healthy and fast with a ludicrous 38″ vertical. If those measurables don’t whet your appetite, maybe these comparables will. Oh, and did I mention that he gets to work the middle of the field while giant receivers Vincent Jackson and fellow-rookie Mike Evans work the perimeter? Pick your poison, defensive coordinators! If there’s one reason to tap the brakes on ASJ’s rookie year it’s the fact that it’s his rookie year. With few exceptions, rookie tight ends rarely rank in the top 10 of the position. That said, I think ASJ is an ideal second TE that you could feel good about starting when the matchup is favorable.
7) Eric Ebron, TE, Lions
Ebron was our top-ranked rookie TE and landed in great situation in Detroit. Personally, I love him because he has one of the best Phenom Index scores ever and joins an elite group of 21 year old rookie tight ends, which includes Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Rob Gronkowski. With the Lions, I’m envisioning an offense that has Megatron and Golden Tate wide, Ebron in the slot, Pettigrew at TE and Reggie Bush coming out of the backfield. Good luck stopping that. Similar to Denver in 2013, the Lions’ 2014 offense should be prolific enough to support multiple high-end fantasy producers. If there’s any question about Ebron’s ability, it relates to his catch rate, but when you compare him to other receivers, those doubts diminish. Long term, his upside is huge, but same as ASJ, we need to remember to temper our enthusiasm with rookie tight ends.
8) Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars
If you don’t recognize this name, read here why Allen Robinson is a first-round talent. Granted, he didn’t get picked until the second round, but the important thing for him is the opportunity. Without Justin Blackmon, the Jaguars have Cecil Shorts and three of your friends playing receiver. Oh yea, and Marqise Lee, but I don’t expect them to offset each other. In fact, I have every expectation that Robinson will earn a starting job and have fantasy relevance as a rookie (See: 2013 rookie of the year Keenan Allen appears among his comparable group). If you’re worried about ARob’s perceived lack of red zone production, don’t be. If you’re worried that there’s nothing sexy about anything associated with the Jaguars, I think Allen Robinson and Mr. Lindsey Duke will change your mind.
9) Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars
You might be surprised to see Bortles as the first rookie quarterback listed, but the fantasy football history of big, mobile passers leads me to believe that Blake Bortles will be a handful. The fact that he went 3rd overall is a great sign that he’ll get an opportunity at some point this year and I think there’s even more to like than just his prototypical height, weight and arm. If you’re a fan of the late-round QB strategy, I would suggest that pairing Bortles with a veteran passer could yield surprisingly good results.
10) Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns
Shawn Siegele recently wrote of Manziel, “Everything we know about him suggests he’s Drew Brees with rushing ability, a Steve Young who’s ready to play right away, a modern day Tarkenton. He’ll be a fantasy QB1 in 2014, and it’s not hyperbole to consider him one of the best prospects of all time.” While I also really like Manziel, there are a few environmental factors that drop him a little lower for me. For one, will Josh Gordon be suspended? If so, learn the name Charles Johnson. Also, there’s the issue of playing in the AFC North and dealing with solid defenses and lousy weather. Same as Bortles, he’s a great later-round QB option, but the hype might drive the price tag up to an uncomfortable range.
11) Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals
On the surface, Hill’s opportunities in Cincinnati might seem limited considering they have Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, but here’s my angle. Green-Ellis saw 220 carries last year and averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. Additionally, BJGE will be 29 this season and is in the final year of his contract. He’s on the way out. On the other hand, Giovani Bernard is an excellent pass catcher, but is limited in his between-the-tackles utility. Enter Jeremy Hill, who was our 4th ranked rookie RB before the draft and is thought to be the superior big back in the 2014 draft, at least when compared to Carlos Hyde. Although Hill is short on overall athleticism, he has an acceptable speed score and is a 230lb short yardage machine who could conceivably post double digit rushing touchdowns as a rookie. Oh, and did I mention he’ll come cheap? He went in the 3rd round of our latest Dynasty Mock Draft.
Bonus) Jace Amaro, TE, Jets
Considering that Geno Smith had a disastrous receiving corps in 2013, Jace Amaro is in a great position to contribute immediately. On the 2mugs podcast I compared him to guys like Greg Olsen and Brent Celek, who have both posted multiple top-10 fantasy seasons. That said, neither had a great rookie year because, again, it’s uncommon for rookie tight ends to contribute. Nonetheless, Amaro would probably be THE top tight end prospect in any other year and is a worthy candidate to be your TE2.
DISCLAIMER: Odell Beckham Jr. would be the next WR on this list, but because of my overwhelming dissatisfaction with the Giants picking him at 12th overall, he has been omitted. Why am I dissatisfied? Because Fu**ing Gain Yards, that’s why.
Honorable Mentions: Kelvin Benjamin, Teddy Bridgewater, Carlos Hyde, Davante Adams, Devonta Freeman, Cody Latimer, Jarvis Landry, Marqise Lee, and more.