With most leagues done with their championship games, it’s time to start looking ahead while reflecting back on the season that was. For those leagues that allow players to be carried over, there are going to be some tough decisions to be made as to who stays and who goes. But, whether you start fresh every year, the boys at The Shop would like to pass along the guys who we see as the biggest impact players in next year’s draft – guys who were available well into the 2014 draft, but are going to skyrocket on next year’s rankings.
We had our championship party Monday night, handing out the prize money to the boys in the league and talking about our teams – who was a Godsend and who was a turd. We got a pretty strong consensus as to who is going to be a really hot ticket last year, arriving at our top 10 players to watch (or get) in 2015.
Andrew Luck – He was already a pretty high pick this season, but he has elevated himself into the stratosphere with the season he put together in 2014. At least a couple of the boys in The Shop league said they would have him ranked No. 1 among QBs and just about everybody said he’s moving up into the rarified air of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
Odell Beckham Jr. – For those of us who had him and were patient stashing him on the bench for the first four games, we were rewarded in a big way. He scored 11 touchdowns in 11 games and, during the three weeks of the fantasy playoffs, he caught 31 passes for 421 yards and six touchdowns. He may not hit the top five, but when you consider that over his last eight games, he never had less than 90 yards and six receptions in any of them, those are Megatron type numbers.
Adrian Peterson – It looks like he’s on his way out in Minnesota, but, for the first time since his ACL injury, he will be entering a season with something prove. The last time he was in that situation, he ran for 2,100 yards. Put him in Seattle or New England and he could be on the fast track to getting a ring.
Antonio Brown – What can you say about a guy who has caught 122 passes, is averaging more than 100 yards a game and has scored 12 touchdowns? He was seen as a high pick in most drafts last year. Next year? He could go No. 1 overall.
Jeremy Hill – When Giovani Bernard went down to injury early in the season, Hill got his chance to shine and hasn’t looked back. He’s averaging five yards a carry and is among the league leaders in rushing touchdowns. He’s proved to be more than just a complementary receiver to Bernard and will likely force his way onto the field in one form or another.
Rob Gronkowski – Because of concerns over his health, Gronk slipped on draft day in most leagues. Don’t expect the same to happen next year. Gronk will be the first TE off the board and likely a top 10 guy even if clumped together with wide receivers.
Carlos Hyde – The 49ers are built for the power running game and it appears as though Frank Gore is finally going to hang up his spikes and call it a career. Hyde has little value now, but, by next year, don’t be surprised if he’s one of the players everyone is talking about.
Ben Roethlisberger – Big Ben has always been an ideal fantasy backup QB because he is always capable of putting up the big numbers. But this year he has taken it to another level, consistently hitting on big days that put fantasy owners over the top. In 12-player leagues, it’s going to be hard to keep him from being somebody’s No. 1 QB.
Mike Evans – With a revolving door at quarterback, a patchwork offensive line and no running games, nobody from the Bucs should have had any sort of fantasy uptick. Instead, Evans is going to top 1,000 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns. The sky is the limit for this kid, especially if they get more weapons around him. At least one guy from the Texas A&M offense is making an impact in the NFL.
The Young Guns At Wide Receiver – Beckham and Evans had huge rookie seasons, but there are a ton of young receivers that are going to go much higher in 2015, including Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, DeAndre Hopkins, John Brown, Jarvis Landry, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, Martavus Bryant and Charles Johnson. They are going to cause a lot of shuffling in player rankings because they’re accomplished plenty in a short period of time and are only going to be more dangerous with experience.
- Just when you thought the Lions could have a bigger punk than Ndamukong Suh, along comes Dominic Raiola. Hopefully, the league gets it right and upholds his suspension for the Packers game and teaches the bully a lesson.
- With all the talk of Marshawn Lynch likely being out of Seattle after the season, you have to ask yourself after seeing Super Beast Mode and the obligatory touchdown junk-grab, why would they terminate his contract? He’s the heart and soul of that offense.
- It seems like old school heading into the playoffs with teams like Dallas and Pittsburgh ending a long playoff drought and having the usual suspects back in the mix (Green Bay, Denver, Seattle and New England). It should make for a fun postseason with no shortage of storylines.
- After giving the worst motivation speech in the history of coaching – the classic “It isn’t over until we say it’s over” by Raiders coach Tony Sparano, the Raiders have won three of their last five and screwing themselves out of a really high draft pick. Commitment to Excellence? Not so much. But, at least it’s not the Commitment to Excrement we saw in the first 10 games.
THE RAZOR’S EDGE
10. It’s Beginning To Smell A Lot Like Cleveland – Remember the Sunday before Thanksgiving when the Brown were 7-4, in first place in their division and talking tough about a playoff run. Four weeks later, they’re back below .500, riding a four-game losing streak and will finish last again in the AFC North. And the shine is off of Johnny Clipboard.
9. Shuffling Off the Playoff Board In Buffalo – Coming off a defining win over Green Bay, Buffalo had a shot to make the playoffs if they won their final two games and got a little help. The first job was beating Oakland, which has been pretty easy for other teams. Not so fast, my friend. The Bills got throttled in the Black Hole and their season is over. They’re a team on the rise, but playoff teams beat Oakland. Those that don’t aren’t playoff teams.
8. On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine – Eleven months ago, the Bears gave Jay Cutler a contract with $96 million with his salary for the first two years guaranteed. Eleven months later, Cutler was a healthy scratch against the Lions, being relieved by ratty Jimmy Clausen. From franchise player to trade bait in less than a year. The question is what suicidal coach wants him? Cutler is a coach killer.
7. Beyond Thunderdome – At midseason, the Saints had clawed their way back into playoff contention at 4-4, which is the awful NFC South, made them the division favorite. They had three straight home games coming and could run away from the rest of the division. Instead, they’ve lost five of their last seven, including their last five at home. It’s time for the Really Big Lebowski to go and Payton may not be far behind if things don’t change in 2015.
6. You Feel Luck-y, Punk? – The knock against Andrew Luck and the Colts is that they beat the teams they should, but not the elite teams, which typically has seen them make the playoffs but exit relatively quickly. This year, Indy’s losses have come against Denver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New England and Dallas. Aside from losing to just about every quality team they’ve faced this season, it’s that the margin of defeat keeps getting bigger – 17 to the Steelers, 22 to the Patriots and 35 to Dallas. They’re in the playoffs, but getting trucked like that likely means it won’t be for long.
5. Four Dead In O-Hi-O – The Broncos were on cruise control to get a first-round bye with the outside chance of locking down home field throughout. But, four interceptions later (and a bunch of wobbly passes later), not only is Denver not going to be at home for the AFC Championship if they get that far, they have to beat up Oakland next week to avoid potentially playing in the wild card round. Denver had a chance to show dominance and didn’t. The Bengals are a good team and were at home, but it exposed the January Manning so many fans have become accustomed to seeing.
4. QB or Not QB, That Is the Question – You can’t blame Cardinals fans for being frustrated. For almost the entire season, Arizona has not only been in first place in the NFC West, but has been in line to be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. After Sunday night’s drubbing by the Seahawks, where both the offense and defense were exposed, the Cards have gone from being a potential playoff favorite and No. 1 seed in the playoffs to likely being a wild card that could be in a one-and-done situation after losing three of their last five and looking offensively inept doing it.
3. What the Flacco Is Going On Here – The Ravens controlled their own destiny heading into Sunday’s game at Houston. With the Texans and Browns the remaining teams on their schedule, the Ravens were counting on Joe Flacco to lead them to the postseason. Instead he had his worst game of the year. He threw 50 times, completing just 21 of them for 195 yards and three interceptions. They’re paying him like a Super Bowl winner, but he isn’t playing like it and now the Ravens control their own destiny. They had the chance to make the statement of their season. They did, but it wasn’t the statement they intended and opened the door for San Diego to close them out regardless of whether they win Sunday.
2. San Francisco Mudslide – In what has become one of the most frustrating seasons in recent memory for 49ers fans, Saturday’s 38-35 overtime loss to San Diego was perhaps hitting bottom for a team that, at 7-4, had a chance to make a playoff push before losing four straight. You thought bottom came when they lost to Oakland, but, in front of the home fans, after building a 28-7 halftime lead, they were outscored 31-7 the rest of the way and put another nail in Jim Harbaugh’s coaching coffin. He has nice Plan B lined up with Michigan, but epic fails like that in front of the home fans aren’t forgotten quickly or easily.
1. Endangered Eagles – The Eagles were in prime position to be a playoff team out of the NFC East when they were sitting at 9-3, but have showed they simply don’t belong in the postseason. They had both Seattle and Dallas at home in must-win games, but lost both of them. Losing to the hapless Redskins was the last straw for a team that had so much promise but fell so flat in crunch time that there are going to be a lot more questions than answers in Philly.
For all of us at The Shop, we’d like wish you all the best this holiday season and all the success you can stand in 2015. We’ve flipped the “Closed” sign on the front door. We’ll see you next year, playahs.