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Patrick Daugherty

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RotoPat: Fantasy Top 25s

Monday, August 24, 2015


As the injuries to Kelvin Benjamin and Jordy Nelson have reminded us, the later you draft, the better. It’s not always possible — half the people reading this article probably already have at least one team — but ideally you’d wait until after the third preseason game to start picking players. Exhibition Week 3 is when teams finalize their depth charts, and mothball their starters upon the ref’s final whistle. By next Monday, the league’s full attention will be on Week 1. That’s when draft season should commence. Now is the time to finalize draft boards. With that in mind, here are my top 25 players at quarterback, running back, receiver and tight end.   


Editor's Note: For updated rankings, projections, exclusive columns, mock drafts and more, check out the Rotoworld Draft Guide.


Top 25 Quarterbacks


1. Andrew Luck


There’s no great case that needs to be made. Luck was already fantasy’s top player in 2014, and has more weapons than anyone in football. With Andre Johnson, T.Y. Hilton, Frank Gore, Dwayne Allen, Phillip Dorsett — pause for air — Coby Fleener, Donte Moncrief and Dan Herron at his disposal, Luck has a Greatest Show on Turf-type supporting cast. Turning 26 one day before Week 1, the crown prince of football is ready to lead a championship squad, both in real life and fantasy.


2. Aaron Rodgers


A surgeon who happens to play quarterback, Rodgers commands the field like an Audi on the autobahn. He’s a high-performance machine, one who doesn’t make mistakes. Rodgers’ “problem” is that he’s become so efficient he can’t match Luck’s volume. He needs fewer throws to get into the red zone, and has Eddie Lacy to finish drives. That means that while Rodgers is indisputably the best player in football, he’s not the best quarterback in fantasy football.     

3. Ben Roethlisberger


Roethlisberger could have peaked early and faded quickly. How many hits can one man take? But instead of breaking down he’s revved up, posting back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons for the first time in his career, including an NFL-leading 4,952 last year. Big Ben is playing his best football for underrated offensive curmudgeon Todd Haley, and has a trio of weapons in Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant that are the envy of the league. Roethlisberger is unlikely to again (co-)lead the league in passing, but he has the supporting cast to make his 2014 a trend instead of a one-off.


4. Peyton Manning


Manning was a dad who stayed out too late partying in 2014. The evening got off to a great start, with Manning winging touchdowns like he was still in college. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the wall. 11PM and the old man could barely stand. Six: That’s how many touchdowns Manning managed over his final six starts. This, after he averaged 3.1 over his first 11. But should we focus on the hot start or the cold finish? Manning is clearly still capable of elite football, it’s just a matter of staying fresh. New coach Gary Kubiak and his commitment to the run should provide the antidote. Manning’s history-making form from his first 2.5 years in Denver is probably toast, but he’s going to remain a top-five quarterback.    


5. Russell Wilson


Wilson’s 2014 breakout was built on the back of rushing numbers that didn’t lose their quality with quantity. Wilson’s career high in attempts (118) produced new peaks in not only yards (849) and scores (six), but yards per carry (7.2). Those numbers will be tough to match in 2015, but Wilson has an improved supporting cast, namely pterodactyl-like tight end Jimmy Graham and playmaking rookie Tyler Lockett. Wilson is never going to attempt 600 throws, but he’s so efficient as both a passer and rusher that his floor is stable, and his ceiling ever growing.   


6. Drew Brees


It can be (quite) easy to forget that Brees’ 4,952 yards co-led the NFL last season. The Saints’ dismal 2014 and newfound commitment to the run have dampened expectations. But for all the forecasts of doom, this is still a quarterback who should uncork at least 550 passes, and breeze past 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. The prodigious volume will no longer be there, but it’s not as if fewer throws will make Brees less efficient. We’re talking about someone with a career 66.2 completion percentage and 7.51 YPA. Brees won’t carry your team, but he’ll buttress your floor.  


7. Matt Ryan


Misplaced expectations are part of the fantasy experience. For years, drafters tried to will Ryan into Rodgers/Manning/Tom Brady territory. Now that we know it’s never going to happen, Ryan has lost his cool kid card. All illusions are gone, and with it, Ryan’s ADP. That means he’s finally properly priced. The QB7 in 2014, Ryan was the QB9, QB5, QB8 and QB9 the four years prior. He’s a consistent compiler, one who should benefit from a new voice on offense after ex-OC Dirk Koetter grew stale amidst the Falcons’ team-wide stagnation. Ryan has a lot riding on the health of Julio Jones, but will sling it regardless of his WR1’s status. Ryan isn’t a team changer, but you don’t need him to be if you’re getting him in the sixth or seventh round.   


8. Eli Manning


There are many ways to be reborn. A near-death experience, going electric, Odell Beckham. Recovered from the ruins of his 27-interception 2013, Manning boasts one of the best supporting casts of his career, and a sensible system that minimizes risk and fattens numbers. Manning is more floor than ceiling, but it’s a nice floor, one with real cedar and a gorgeous finish.


9. Ryan Tannehill


Everyone knows Tannehill’s weakness: The deep ball. He’s finally started familiarizing us with his strengths. Tannehill is precise at the short-to-intermediate levels, and enough of a running threat to keep defenses honest. His big-play ability isn’t what it should be, but the Dolphins have stopped trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. They’ve surrounded Tannehill with complementary talents, and began to reap the rewards in 2014. Tannehill’s ceiling probably isn’t much higher than his QB10 finish last season, but he’s here to stay as a QB1.    


10. Tony Romo


Less was (much) more for Romo in 2014. Freed from the yearly burden of putting the Cowboys’ offense on his back, Romo repeated his QB13 finish from 2013 despite attempting 100 fewer passes. His productivity skyrocketed as DeMarco Murray carried the mail. So naturally the Cowboys lowballed Murray in free agency, risking a return to the natural Romo order of things. But whatever happens in 2015, fantasy owners should win. If the Cowboys somehow repeat last season’s rushing success, Romo can keep bleeding defenses with accuracy and efficiency. If not, he’ll be a volume-based asset throwing touchdowns to Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrance Williams.   


11. Philip Rivers — Health is the main concern. Rivers was plagued by back and rib ailments after getting off to a brilliant start last season.

12. Tom BradyHow a resurrection really feels? Brady’s Weeks 5-17 last season. He’ll have to repeat the feat if his four-game suspension stands.     

13. Matthew Stafford — No longer young, Stafford’s consistent inconsistency caps his upside.

14. Teddy Bridgewater — 2015’s most intriguing young quarterback, Bridgewater has the supporting cast to be this year’s Tannehill.   

15. Cam Newton — Newton’s outlook was a concern before Kelvin Benjamin’s knee injury. Now it’s a crisis for a player who appeared sluggish for large chunks of 2014.

16. Sam Bradford — But for the grace of Chip Kelly. Still, believe it when you see it.  

17. Andy Dalton — The Red Rifle rides again, but will occasionally shoot his eye out. Think DFS.

18. Joe Flacco — Where are the weapons? Big arm, bigger inconsistency.

19. Jameis Winston — His college interceptions were overblown, but Winston is a good bet to toss at least 20 as a rookie.   

20. Marcus Mariota — Making the adjustment from a hyper-spread to Ken Whisenhunt’s hyper-vanilla offense with a muddled receiver corps is as hard as it looks.  

21. Carson Palmer — A 1994 Chevy Silverado, Palmer’s odds of starting 16 games are slim.

22. Colin Kaepernick — I was one of the TrueBelievers™, but now the floor looks closer than the ceiling.  

23. Alex Smith — Will: Throw a touchdown to a receiver. Won’t: Matter much.

24. Jay Cutler — Back-to-back bad starts away from a benching.

25. Nick Foles — To be properly hidden behind a wall of Gurley and Mason.  


Editor's Note: Play against our writers in the Rotoworld Football Championship – a series of one-week fantasy contests on FanDuel with $20K in FREE prizes! Enter the Week 1 contest before it fills.


Top 25 Running Backs


1. Eddie Lacy


Some years give us consensus at top. 2015 has a dogpile. 5-6 players have legitimate claims to the No. 1 spot, while 1-2 more are realistic darkhorses. I’ll give the nod to Lacy, a drive-finishing force for football’s deadliest offense. The owner of 24 touchdowns across 31 career contests, Lacy added a new dimension to his new game last season when he emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous pass-catching backs. Among runners, only Roy Helu and Le’Veon Bell bested Lacy’s 10.2 yards per catch. Lacy also got better as the year wore on, averaging 5.04 yards per carry over the season’s frigid final two months. Bell would be the clear-cut No. 1 were it not for his two-game suspension, but his ban leaves a hole Lacy is ready to burst through.       


2. Le’Veon Bell


Bell is the most complete back in the NFL. He’s just not the most available. As Josh Gordon proved in 2013, suspensions can be overcome for roto purposes. That’s why Bell is still No. 2. But why put him at No. 1 over a player like Lacy who is ready to dominate every week of the fantasy season, not just 85 percent of it? There are all sorts of valid reasons to place Bell in the top spot, but I think two missed games is enough of a tiebreaker that I’m ceding it to Lacy.    


3. DeMarco Murray


DeMarco Murray is 27. He’s coming off the 17th greatest rushing effort in NFL history. His $18 million guaranteed is the second most remaining on any running back’s contract. He’s playing for Chip Kelly. Why are we worried again? With a statement that forceful, I should probably have Murray No. 1. I don’t because, like everyone else, I see some red flags. Including the playoffs, Murray touched the ball 497 times last season. He had 392 regular season carries. Only 11 players in league history have reached that threshold, and just four surpassed 1,000 yards the following year. Next is the matter of Ryan Mathews, Murray’s well-paid backup. The Eagles didn’t give Mathews $5 million guaranteed to supply towels and hand out Gatorade. Finally there’s … well that’s about it for the concerns.


And we’re letting this knock last year’s RB1 to the second round?


Yes, just 4-of-11 390 men managed 1,000 yards the following year, but one of the outlier campaigns? Eric Dickerson’s 2,105-yard 1984. That doesn’t make the argument for Murray any more than the others do against him. It simply highlights that we’re talking about 11 disparate data points spread across 31 years of NFL history. Will Mathews get carries? Yes. Is this a committee? No. Murray isn’t going to come close to last year’s workload, but he doesn’t need to. Murray was the RB8 in 2013 despite handling the ball only 270 times. Murray is an elite player in his prime running for one of the league's most creative coaches, who, as it happens, is at the forefront of keeping players healthy through new-age means. 2014 is gone, but Murray’s top-five status is not.        


4. Marshawn Lynch


In the age of the incredibly shrinking back, Lynch has refused to wear down as his touches have piled up. By many measures, he’s better than ever. Lynch is coming off the second-best YPC of his career (4.66), while the most controversial moment of 2014-15 involved him not getting the ball. “Beast Mode” is the heart and soul of the Seahawks’ offense, and has scored at least 12 total touchdowns each of the past four seasons. His question marks are age and career workload, nebulous concerns that doesn’t always make the leap from paper to practice. Where many of the players behind Lynch — Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and C.J. Anderson — have serious question marks, Lynch has a track record of consistency and durability no current back can match.   


5. Adrian Peterson


The man, the myth, the … back who didn’t play in 2014. The fact that Peterson is the consensus No. 1 overall player by ADP speaks to the legends his era-defining running has spawned. But you need to cut through them if you want to make the smartest pick at the top of the first round. Peterson’s track record is worth betting on, but owners seem willfully ignorant of the fact that Peterson is not returning from his historic 2012, but more human 2013. That was a campaign that saw Peterson average 4.5 yards per carry, and score “just” 11 total touchdowns. Peterson missed two games, finishing as the RB6 as he battled minor foot, groin and hamstring issues. Peterson has taken the rock just 23 times in the past 20 months, and turned 30 in the interim. The last 30-plus back to finish as a top-10 fantasy runner was Thomas Jones in 2009. Peterson is one of the greatest players of all time. It’s understandable that people are excited to draft him. But accepting him as the No. 1 overall player as an article of faith is blind faith.    


6. Jeremy Hill  


Eighth in rushing (1,124 yards), third in running back YPC (5.06) and tied for third in ground scores (nine), Hill was the RB10 as a rookie despite making only eight starts. He was the NFL’s leading rusher over the season’s final nine games. Hill is a complete player, one who catches passes and holds his own as a blocker. He’ll cede some passing-game snaps to Giovani Bernard, but the league’s most impressive sophomore back is not part of a committee. He’s the funnel through which OC Hue Jackson is going to filter his run-heavy offense, and an absolute steal in the second round of fantasy drafts.  


7. Jamaal Charles


Charles has never averaged fewer than 5.0 yards per carry, and has managed 1,000 yards rushing and 1,300 yards from scrimmage in each of his past five healthy campaigns. But he also showed signs of breakdown last season, gutting through ankle, knee and hamstring issues as he posted his lowest healthy rushing total (1,033 yards) since 2009. He also saw his role reduced in the passing game, catching 30 fewer passes than he did as the RB1 in 2013. Charles says he’s in the best shape of his life, but the Chiefs are talking about getting him more rest. There’s little reason to believe Charles is in an out-and-out decline, but he’s peaked, and has one of the better backups in football in Knile Davis. Charles remains an RB1, but is unlikely to crack the top five.    


8. C.J. Anderson


With Anderson, there’s only one question — can he hold off Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball? With most signs pointing to “yes,” Anderson has No. 1 overall upside. Anderson was one of the league’s most effective second-half players last season, piling up 1,057 yards from scrimmage in Weeks 10-17, and averaging an absurd 29 touches between Weeks 12-16. Now the Broncos want him to be Peyton Manning’s “best friend” as they look to right the wrongs of last year’s collapse. Anderson is a potential three-down back for a coach in Gary Kubiak who favors a “bellcow.” Anderson’s 2015 will go up in smoke if Hillman or Ball forces a committee, but his “risk” is nowhere near as compelling as his reward.


9. Lamar Miller


Finally ticketed for a workhorse role, Miller finished as the RB9 last season despite touching the ball only 254 times. His 5.08 YPC was second amongst running backs, and his overall numbers were nearly identical to Charles’. Miller’s career got off to a rocky start as he played for a foolish play-caller behind a sieve-like offensive line, but 2014 was proof of what he can accomplish in a good scheme. OC Bill Lazor features one of the most efficient running games in the league, and should hone things even further in 2015. Don’t be surprised if Miller crashes the top five.  


10. LeSean McCoy


McCoy has the Bills’ backfield to himself, but is running behind a questionable line in an offense without a quarterback. Unless Tyrod Taylor wins the starting job and establishes himself as a true dual threat, defenses are going to stack the box and force McCoy to beat eight-man fronts. It’s also hard to overstate McCoy’s separation from Chip Kelly. Whereas McCoy spent the past two years running for the league’s fastest-paced offense, OC Greg Roman will helm a methodical attack. A slowdown artist, Roman doesn’t care about ripping off as many plays as possible. Roman also makes little effort to involve his runners as pass catchers, meaning McCoy’s 2014 reception dip will likely carry over to his new team. McCoy’s 2015 fortunes live and die with voluminous workloads. He should get them, but his upside isn’t what it was in Philly.       


11. Matt Forte — Forte should remain a productive player, but his ADP reflects a role (102 catches) that no longer exists.  

12. Justin Forsett — One of 2014’s toughest cases, 29-year-old Forsett has monster upside for an offensive coordinator who peppers his running backs with targets.

13. Frank Gore — Gore will have to (keep) defying age, but his three-down skills are tantalizing in the Colts’ juggernaut offense.  

14. Mark Ingram — Ingram will be touchdown dependent, but a steadying force as an RB2.  

15. Melvin Gordon — Gordon won’t catch a ton of passes, but the Bolts want to feed their rookie banger early and often.  

16. T.J. Yeldon — Enviable role, but AWOL preseason a concern. A potential tumbler.   

17. Alfred Morris — A dysfunctional offense and uber-talented backup are a troubling mix.  

18. Carlos Hyde — A boom-or-bust sophomore who had a middling offseason. Could spend the year mired in a timeshare.  

19. Jonathan Stewart — Stewart has never lacked for upside, but is 28 years old with an injury history that comes in three volumes.  

20. Latavius Murray — Has the talent to explode into the top five, but a “track record” best left air quoted.

21. Chris Ivory — Potential post-hype sleeper if he can stay on the field and catch a few passes.  

22. C.J. Spiller — The Shane Vereen of your dreams if he stays healthy.  

23. Todd Gurley — Talent isn’t an issue, but health and early-season workload are.

24. Joseph Randle — Real RB2 potential, but a bottomless floor.  

25. LeGarrette Blount — Don’t fight it.


Don't forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out Rotoworld's Player News, or follow @Rotoworld_FB or @RotoPat on Twitter.



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Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Patrick Daugherty



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