With playoffs in full swing and more than a few of us already turning at least some of our fantasy attention towards 2014 (thanks, KC defense), here’s my first stab at next year’s rankings.
Obviously these are very fluid; they were tweaked from the rough draft I laid out in Week 13, and if I redid them this very second there would most definitely be changes. So consider this a starting point.
But before departing from this starting point, there are a few players and rankings I’d like to address. Some are justifications, some are situations to watch, and some are just meant to keep a lid on the “Are you freakin’ high?” emails this list is bound to generate.
With keeper/dynasty rankings I don’t like to look more than three years out. And yet I found myself going back to Matthew Stafford as my top QB, ahead of Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. DMD slapped some sense back into me, but bottom line I’ve come around on Stafford from where I was heading into this season—when I didn’t know if he’d match last season’s NFL-record number of attempts. Clearly the Lions are all-pass, all the time, and fantasy-wise that’s a good thing.
I’m also coming around on Russell Wilson. I still think the Seahawks are run-first and have more than enough defense so as to not require Wilson to get into shootouts. But he’s doing enough with his feet and is efficient with his limited passing attempts to warrant every-week starter status. At least that’s what I’m thinking right now.
Jay Cutler is a curious case. He’s a potential free agent, and there are many ways he doesn’t go back to Chicago. For starters, the Bears have already indicated they aren’t likely to franchise him, in part because they have several other free agents who will tap into their budget. Second, the play of Josh McCown may have them thinking that Marc Trestman’s system doesn’t require a big-money investment in a quarterback. And third, the Titans can get out of Jake Locker’s contract after 2014 and are reportedly eying Cutler. Lots of ways this can go, almost all of them good for Jay’s fantasy value.
Eli Manning dribbled so many quality matchups down his leg this season, 20 feels generous. He may slide further over the course of the offseason.
Despite there being 32 quarterbacks listed, you’ll notice the neither the Browns nor Jaguars have a representative. Neither team’s starter is likely on their respective roster; maybe free agents to be Michael Vick or Josh Freeman find a new home?
At present there seems to be a little more certainty amongst the elite backs; you have to work your way down to Doug Martin at 10 to find question marks, and even then it’s not as if he’s coming back from a knee injury. Coming on the heels of 2013’s disastrous first round of RBs—Martin, Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson—it’s nice to have at least the appearance of security.
Giovanni Bernard is still sharing carries with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but it feels a whole lot more like Charles phasing Thomas Jones out in Kansas City than Spiller sharing carries with Fred Jackson in Buffalo. And this coming from a BJGE apologist, one greatly appreciative of how his two Week 14 TDs keyed a major upside in my most competitive league.
Lots of grey area from the mid-teens on back. Is Ray Rice done? How about Foster? Maurice Jones-Drew? Can David Wilson come back? Does Montee Ball leapfrog Knowshon Moreno? All that uncertainty in the RB2s & RB3s will make going WR/TE/QB early a little trickier—but potentially that much more lucrative as well, assuming you can correctly identify the mid-tier guys who’ll bust out. Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us this offseason.
Among the more intriguing free agents to track this offseason: Ben Tate, who’s made a nice little salary push for himself of late; Toby Gerhart, who will be underrated but has feature-back ability and only needs an opportunity; Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown, who may or may not be back to challenge Richardson in Indy; and the Raiders tandem of Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings, neither of whom can apparently stay healthy.
One man’s early guesses: Tate to the Browns, where he becomes LaDainian Tomlinson Light; and Gerhart back to the Bay Area where he becomes a more talented version of Marcel Reece.
While Brandon Marshall currently sits at 5, I’m not so sure he’s not holding down Alshon Jeffery’s spot. Maybe those two swap spots, maybe they move closer together. But both are stud receivers in the Chicago offense, and both look to be QB-proof so the offseason situation shouldn’t negatively impact their fantasy value.
Initially Josh Gordon was lower and Justin Blackmon was higher. Both have performed at WR1 levels, and both have risk tied to their off-the-field issues. In Gordon’s favor is the limited number of games he’s missed, as opposed to the larger number of games in which he’s played well in. Both have quarterback situations that need to be monitored, though having put up numbers with the likes of Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert suggests they’re both QB-proof as well.
A few young guys who have already moved up the list and have the potential to climb further: Keenan Allen, solidifying himself as the top target in San Diego; Kendall Wright, performing a similar feat in Tennessee; Rueben Randle, likely to step into Hakeem Nicks’ shoes in New York; and Cordarrelle Patterson, who could absolutely blow up if the Vikings choose wisely in the draft day QB sweepstakes this spring. QB developments could elevate Justin Hunter and Andre Holmes as well.
Finally, free agents to keep an eye on include Jeremy Maclin (not just a question of how his knee recovers, but also do the Eagles need him given the development of Riley Cooper?), Eric Decker (lucrative third wheel in Denver or potential WR1 elsewhere?), and James Jones (a similar situation in Green Bay, one of a productive cast or a go-to guy on another team?).
Another offseason of wondering whether or not Rob Gronkowski will be available for the start of the season bumps him down the list—though not too far.
Once again this position looks fairly loaded, depending on whether or not guys like Greg Olsen and Dennis Pitta re-up with their current teams, whether veterans like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates step aside, and whether members of last year’s rookie class—Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce—move to the top of their respective depth charts.
Look, we’ll take your kicker questions in the chat room, but we draw the line at keeper kicker questions. C’mon, man!