Steven Lourie

Aug 312014
 

51. S Earl Thomas (Seattle)

Some people consider Earl Thomas the top safety in the NFL. Thomas has never graded out higher than 8th among safeties on Pro Football Focus, doing so in 2011, and finishing 10th in 2013, including 4th in pure coverage grade. There’s something to be said for the fact that Earl Thomas hasn’t missed a game in 4 seasons in the league since being drafted in the 1st round in 2010 and that he’s only going into his age 25 season. However, Jairus Byrd is the best safety in the NFL, not Thomas. The big difference: In 5 seasons, Byrd has missed 22 tackles, while Thomas has missed 55 tackles in 4 seasons, including 31 over the past 2 seasons alone. That might sound like splitting hairs, but when we’re talking about best safety in the NFL, that type of thing matters. Thomas is still a fantastic football player though.

Last year: 190

52. G Marshal Yanda (Baltimore)

Yanda had a down season last season, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 15th ranked guard. Yanda has played right tackle and right guard in his career. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked guard in 2012 and their 3rd ranked guard in 2011. At right tackle, he ranked 6th in 2010 and 5th in 2007 as a 3rd round rookie. In 2008, he played right guard and only played in 5 games because of injury, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked guard despite playing just 350 snaps. No one played fewer snaps than him and graded out higher. In 2009, he was limited to 405 snaps and 7 starts at right guard because of some limited time at right tackle, where he played well, and some more injuries, but he still graded out 17th at his position, with no one grading out higher than him and playing fewer snaps. Going into his age 30 season, Yanda has a very good chance of bouncing back from his “down” season.

Last year: 32

53. CB Brent Grimes (Miami)

The Dolphins signed Brent Grimes to a 1-year, 5.5 million dollar contract last off-season, as he was coming off of a torn Achilles, and it worked out. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked cornerback last season and the Dolphins rewarded him with a 4-year, 32 million dollar deal this off-season. That’s a lot of money for a player going into his age 31 season that has Grimes’ injury history, missing 19 games from 2011-2012. It was a good deal though. When healthy, Grimes is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked cornerback in 2010, 3rd ranked in 2011, and 2nd ranked in 2013. He joined Antoine Winfield, Brandon Flowers, and Jason McCourty as the only 4 cornerbacks to grade out in the top-10 in 3 of the last 4 seasons.

Last year: NA

54. MLB Luke Kuechly (Carolina)

Luke Kuechly won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, though I don’t think he deserved it. Kuechly definitely had a great season, but he’s not nearly as flawless as people seem to think he is. As good as Kuechly is against the run, he can struggle in coverage. Only one middle linebacker allowed more completions than Kuechly. Putting up a ton of tackles is great, but it’s an overrated stat because not all tackles are equal. If you’re tackling a guy after a 9 yard completion, you’re not doing a lot of good. Kuechly had just 39 tackles for a “stop” against the run, meaning a tackle within 4 yards of the line of original line of scrimmage on first down, 6 yards on 2nd down, or the full distance on 3rd or 4th down. He did this on 325 run snaps, a rate of 12.0% that was 7th among eligible middle linebackers. That’s certainly not bad, but considering his run play is his best attribute, it’s hardly Defensive Player of the Year material. All this might sound like nitpicking, but nitpicking is what you have to do when picking a single defensive player for an award. Still, he’s a very good player who graded out 8th at his position last season and 7th in 2012.

Last year: 88

55. CB Jason McCourty (Tennessee)

McCourty has graded out in the top-11 in each of the last 3 seasons, the only cornerback in the NFL who can say that, and the 2009 6th round pick has graded out in the top-20 in each of the past 4 seasons, joining Joe Haden has the only other cornerback who has done that. Part of that is that he’s been so good against the run and run stopping ability is easily a cornerback’s least important trait. He was Pro Football Focus’ 1st ranked cornerback in 2011 and 2nd ranked cornerback in 2012 in terms of run grade. Still, he was Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked cornerback in coverage grade in 2013 and 16th ranked cornerback in coverage grade in 2010. He’s graded out above average in coverage in every season in the league. He’s a well-rounded cornerback, though he isn’t quite as good as his overall grades would suggest he is.

Last year: 156

56. S TJ Ward (Denver)

Ward is one of the best safeties in the NFL. He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th and 6th ranked safety in 2012 and 2013 respectively, the only safety in the NFL to finish top-6 both seasons. He was also 13th in 2011, despite missing 8 games with injury. That was really his only injury plagued season as he missed 2 games in his other 3 seasons combined, playing 54 games in 4 seasons, starting each of them and grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010. Kam Chancellor and Eric Berry give him some competition for the title, but, in my opinion, Ward is the best strong safety in the NFL. His strength is obviously the run, but he holds up in coverage as well. The Broncos got a steal by signing him to a 4-year, 23 million dollar deal this off-season. He undoubtedly gave them a discount because they were a contender, after he spent the first 4 years of his career on a losing team in Cleveland.

Last year: 155

57. WR Brandon Marshall (Chicago)

Marshall is as steady as they come, with 7 straight 1000 yard seasons in which he’s missed a combined 4 games.  He hasn’t always been dominant, grading outside of the top-10 on Pro Football Focus in 4 of 7 seasons as a starter, and he’s had issues with drops, dropping 91 passes in 7 seasons. However, he’s been dominant since coming to Chicago (grading out in the top-8 in both seasons). He’s averaged 2.32 yards per route run over the past 7 seasons and he’s caught enough passes to make up for the drops. Last season, he was actually Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked wide receiver by a large margin. That was mostly because of his absurd run blocking grade and that’s obviously not his primary job, but he was still Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked pass catching receiver and the fact that he can dominate on the outside on running downs is a nice added bonus. He’s been Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked wide receiver in run blocking grade 3 times in 7 seasons.

Last year: 53

58. QB Tom Brady (New England)

Tom Brady arguably had the worst statistical season of his career last season, completing 60.5% of his passes (lowest since 2003), for an average of 6.92 YPA (lowest since 2003), 25 touchdowns (lowest in a full season since 2006), and 11 interceptions, a QB rating of 87.3. That QB rating was the 4th worst of his career and the lowest since 2003, when the NFL’s rules didn’t favor the quarterback nearly as much as they do now. Those numbers were all significant declines from 2010-2012, when he completed 64.7% of his passes for an average of 8.02 YPA, 109 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions, a QB rating of 104.6. Part of the issue was Brady’s lack of supporting cast offensively. However, part of the issue was also Brady himself. Brady was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked quarterback, which is very good, but he was 3rd in both 2011 and 2012. The decline he’s showing is a concern considering as he’s heading into his age 37 season.

Last year: 10

59. OT Tyron Smith (Dallas)

Tyron Smith was the 9th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and he’s panned out. He graded out 3rd in 2011 and 7th in 2013, with a down 2012 season in between, when he graded out slightly below average. He played right tackle as a rookie, had some growing pains at left tackle in 2012, but then put it all together last season. Only going into his age 24 season, Smith is one of the better young left tackles in the game. The Cowboys gave him an 8-year, 98 million dollar extension this off-season and have him under contract through 2023 at 109 million dollars total.

Last year: NA

60. DE Sheldon Richardson (NY Jets)

The 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Richardson won Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, excelling against the run. Richardson’s 52 solo tackles were 2nd most at the 5-technique defensive end position behind all-everything JJ Watt and he also had 16 assisted tackles, which led the position, and missed just 4 tackles. As good as JJ Watt was, he missed 7 tackles. Richardson also had 41 “stops” which also came in 2nd at his position, again behind Watt. 32 of those stops came on run plays, on 325 run snaps, a rate of 9.8% that was 7th among eligible 5-technique defensive ends. He also did a great job of tying up multiple blockers when asked. For his work against the run, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 3-4 defensive end against the run and 5th overall. He wasn’t nearly as impressive as a pass rusher, with those aforementioned 4 sacks. He also had 5 hits and 24 hurries on 509 pass rush snaps, a rate of 6.5%. That isn’t that bad and he only graded out slightly below average in this aspect on Pro Football Focus. I don’t have much doubt that he can continue to be an elite player in 2014, possibly even better than he was as a rookie.

Last year: NA

61. C Ryan Kalil (Carolina)

Ryan Kalil was Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked center last season, in his first year back after being limited to 292 snaps in 5 games with a foot injury in 2012. Prior to the injury, he was one of the best centers in the league, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked center in 2009, 7th ranked in 2010, and 7th ranked in 2011. Now that he’s healthy again, he’s gone back to being one of the best centers in the league.

Last year: 50

62. OT Eugene Monroe (Baltimore)

Monroe has been a top-16 offensive tackle on ProFootballFocus in each of the last 3 seasons, maxing out as #6 in 2011. He graded out 16th overall this season, but playing even better once he was traded to Baltimore. The Baltimore “version” of Monroe was the #12 offensive tackle this season. Even if we use his composite grade for the 2013 season, Monroe is still one of just 4 offensive tackles to grade out in the top-16 on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons (Joe Thomas, Michael Roos, Andrew Whitworth). He’s one of the better blindside protectors in the game and the Ravens got him on a great deal, re-signing him for 5 years, 37.5 million dollars this off-season.

Last year: 113

63. G Andy Levitre (Tennessee)

The Titans signed Andy Levitre to a 6-year, 46.8 million dollar deal last off-season. He had a “down” year in his first year with the team, but he was still a huge asset, grading out 13th at his position. The only reason last year was a “down” year for him is because he graded out 6th at his position in 2011 and 9th at his position in 2012. Even still, only Evan Mathis and Josh Sitton also have graded out in the top-13 in each of the last 3 seasons among guards. The 2009 2nd round pick has made all 80 starts in 5 years in the league and graded out above average in all 5 seasons. He should have another strong year this year.

Last year: 76

64. QB Philip Rivers (San Diego)

After posting QB ratings of 100+ for 3 straight seasons from 2008-2010, Rivers saw his QB rating drop into the 80s in both 2011 and 2012. Rivers found the fountain of youth in 2013 though, completing 69.5% of his passes for an average of 8.23 YPA, 32 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, a QB rating of 105.5, tying his career high. He led the Chargers to the playoffs with a record of 9-7, pulling an upset in Cincinnati in the first round. The Chargers were able to do this despite a defense that ranked 28th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.36% rate, because Rivers led an offense that was 2nd in the NFL moving the chains at a 78.26% rate. His age is a concern, as he goes into his age 33 season, and so is the fact that he lost offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, but he’s an ideal fit in head coach Mike McCoy’s offensive system.

Last year: NA

65. MLB Stephen Tulloch (Detroit)

Stephen Tulloch had a phenomenal 2013 season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked middle linebacker. He has done this kind of thing before, as he graded out above average as a starter in every season from 2008-2011, maxing out at 6th overall in 2011. He struggled in 2012, grading out below average, but only because he was playing through a serious knee injury. He bounced back in a huge way in 2013 and should continue to play really well in 2014.

Last year: NA

66. OLB Tamba Hali (Kansas City)

Hali was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker last season. He was 17th in 2012, in a down year, but otherwise he’s been a dominant edge rusher since converting to rush linebacker in 2009. He was Pro Football Focus’ 9th, 1st, and 4th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2009, 2010, and 2011 respectively. In 2010, he had arguably the most impressive season in terms of purely rushing the passer of any player in the last 5 years as he had 17 sacks, 16 hits, and 64 hurries on 543 pass rush snaps, an absurd 17.9% rate (basically he was pressuring the quarterback on more than a 1/6 of his pass rush snaps). The biggest issue with Hali is his age as he goes into his age 31 season. He’s shown some small signs of decline over the past two seasons and he could have a down year this year, considering guys like Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, and Dwight Freeney have done similar things at similar points in their careers.

Last year: 120

67. DT Marcell Dareus (Buffalo)

Marcell Dareus was the 3rd overall pick in the loaded 2011 draft and is now going into his 4thseason in the league, only his age 25 season. The Bills already picked up his 5th year option and for good reason. He’s played both 4-3 defensive tackle and 3-4 nose tackle in his career, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked defensive tackle in both 2011 and 2012 and their 6th ranked defensive tackle in 2013. The scheme switch in Buffalo shouldn’t affect him and he could be even better in his 4th year in the league. He has some minor off-the-field concerns though.

Last year: 120

68. OLB Brian Orakpo (Washington)

Brian Orakpo bounced back in a big way from a torn triceps injury that limited to him to 87 snaps in 2012. Last season, Orakpo graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker and showed a fantastic all-around game. He graded out above average as a run stopper, pass rusher, and in coverage, grading out 9that his position as a pass rusher, 4th as a run stopper, and 2nd in coverage. The 2009 13th overall pick was also Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2011. The Redskins franchise tagged him this off-season, as they obviously didn’t want him to get away, though they were unable to agree to a long-term deal.

Last year: 93

69. OT Duane Brown (Houston)

Duane Brown is one of the better offensive tackles in the game. Last year he was Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked offensive tackle in a “down” season. Brown was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked offensive tackle in 2012, 5th ranked offensive tackle in 2011, and 19th ranked offensive tackle in 2010. Even after last year, he’s still one of four offensive tackles (Andrew Whitworth, Joe Thomas, and Sebastian Vollmer) who has graded out in the top-24 in each of the past 4 seasons. The 2008 1st round pick has graded out above average in every season since 2009, after a rough rookie year.

Last year: 11

70. G Larry Warford (Detroit)

I argued Larry Warford should have been Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. Warford played every snap one of Detroit’s 1158 offensive snaps as a rookie. Warford didn’t allow a single sack from the right guard spot and only allowed 5 quarterback hits and 10 hurries, while committing just 4 penalties this season. Warford played every snap over a 16 game season and only allowed his man to even get close to the quarterback 15 times. In fact, he only allowed more than 2 quarterback pressures in a game once and that was against Cincinnati, when he was frequently matched up with all-everything defensive tackle Geno Atkins, before Atkins’ injury. On top of that, the right guard gap produced 4.77 yards per carry for the Lions, a team that averaged just 4.04 yards per carry overall. As a result, Warford was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked guard and was an obvious Pro-Bowl snub. He’s obviously still a one year wonder, as he was a rookie last year, but I’m confident he can have another dominant year.

Last year: NA

71. S Kam Chancellor (Seattle)

Kam Chancellor has graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons he’s been in the league. He didn’t start as a 5th round rookie in 2010, but he’s graded out 5th, 20th, and 12th in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively.  Both Thomas and Chancellor complement each other so well. The big 6-3 232 pound thumping Chancellor plays within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage on 69.2% of snaps, 5th most in the NFL among eligible safety, while the rangy 5-10 208 pound Thomas plays within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage on just 12.6% of snaps, 6th fewest in the NFL. While Thomas might be overrated, Chancellor might actually be underrated.

Last year: 159

72. C Chris Myers (Houston)

Chris Myers is also one of the top centers in the game. Myers has been a top-11 center on Pro Football Focus in every season since 2007, the only center in the game who can say that. He maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ 1st ranked center in 2011 and graded out 6th last season. He’s always been a better run blocker than pass protector, but he did struggle as a pass protector last season, grading out 30th out of 35 eligible in that aspect, as opposed to 2nd as a run blocker. He’s going into his age 33 season, but interior offensive linemen can often play well even in their mid-30s. His declining pass protection is a concern, but he should still have a solid season.

Last year: 28

73. DE Michael Johnson (Tampa Bay)

The Buccaneers signed Michael Johnson to a 5-year, 43.75 million dollar deal. Johnson is an incredibly athletic defensive end who went in the 3rd round out of Georgia Tech in 2009 because a lot of his tape didn’t match his athleticism. He eventually put everything together in 2012 in the contract year of his rookie deal, as he recorded 13 sacks and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked 4-3 defensive end. The Bengals franchise tagged him instead of giving him a long-term deal because they wanted him to prove it again. At first glance, he doesn’t appear to have proven it, recording just 5 sacks, but he also added 16 quarterback hits and 40 quarterback hurries on 575 snaps (a 10.6% pass rush rate, as opposed to 10.3% in 2012), to go with 7 batted passes. Add in the fact that he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 defensive end against the run and you have a guy who was much better than his raw sack totals. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 4-3 defensive end.

Last year: 158

74. CB Vontae Davis (Indianapolis)

The Colts re-signed Vontae Davis to a 4-year, 39 million dollar deal this off-season. That might not pan out, as Davis has an inconsistent past. Vontae Davis had a dominant contract year last year, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked cornerback and 2nd in terms of coverage grade. However, the Colts are overpaying him based on his contract year. That type of move doesn’t usually end well. Davis was a 1st round pick in 2009 by Miami and he’s never been able to consistently put it all together. He had a solid rookie year on 709 snaps, grading out 26th among cornerbacks, and then looked like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2010, grading out 12th. However, he missed 4 games with injury in 2011, fell down to 37th, and then got traded to Indianapolis, where he graded out 74th in 2012. He put it all together for his contract year, but I’m skeptical he can keep that up.

Last year: NA

75. WR Alshon Jeffery (Chicago)

Alshon Jeffery didn’t have an impact until his 2nd season in Chicago. The 2012 2nd round pick graded out below average on 445 snaps as a rookie, but was dominant on 973 snaps last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked wide receiver. He caught 89 passes for 140 targets (63.6%) for 1421 yards on 601 routes run, an average of 2.36 yards per route run. He isn’t as proven as Marshall and he didn’t draw as much coverage as Marshall did last season, but he was more productive than him in the passing game last season. Like Marshall, he’s a big bodied receiver at 6-3 216 and can push smaller defensive backs around, grading out above average in the run blocking game. Going into his 3rd year in the league, Jeffery could easily be just as, if not more productive next season.

Last year: NA

Aug 302014
 

76. OT Nate Solder (New England)

Nate Solder will continue to start at left tackle for the Patriots. The 2011 1st round was Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked offensive tackle in his first year as a starter in 2012 and then took it to the next level in 2013, grading out 9th. He was abused by Von Miller, but there’s no shame in that and he was very good the rest of the season. The Patriots have already picked up his option for 2015 and he’s one of the best young blindside protectors in the game.

Last year: 127

77. G Jahri Evans (New Orleans)

Jahri Evans has been a starter for the Saints for 8 years since they drafted him in the 4th round in 2006 and he’s missed just 2 games over that 8-year span. He’s also their best offensive lineman, dominating throughout his career. Those 2 games he missed were last season, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked guard. That’s actually the 2nd lowest he’s ranked in his career, which is a concern, when coupled with his injury and the fact that he’s going into his age 31 season. He could be declining. However, he was so good in his prime (grading out in the top-30 in 7 straight years and the top-9 in 5 of those 7 years, maxing out at #1 overall in 2009), that even a declining Evans is one of the best guards in the game.

Last year: 48

78. DE Muhammad Wilkerson (NY Jets)

Many saw Wilkerson as having a breakout season last year, as evidenced by his 11 sacks, but he was actually better in 2012, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 3-4 defensive end. In 2013, he was “only” 15th at his position. In 2013, he had 11 sacks, 9 hits, and 32 hurries on 636 pass rush snaps, a rate of 8.2%. In 2012, he had 5 sacks, 10 hits, and 22 hurries on 472 pass rush snaps, a rate of 7.8%, which is comparable, and he was also much better against the run. Still, he’s one of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL and has been for two seasons. The 2011 1st round pick has really panned out and had his option picked up for 2015.

Last year: 29

79. TE Vernon Davis (San Francisco)

In 18 games with Crabtree in the lineup and Kaepernick under center, including playoffs, Vernon Davis has 43 catches for 679 yards and 8 touchdowns and he has 38 catches for 623 yards and 9 touchdowns in the other 10 games he’s played with Kaepernick under center. The 49ers haven’t passed enough in the past for both Davis and Crabtree to put up big numbers, but that could change this season. Even if he doesn’t get a ton of targets, he’s still an efficient pass catcher and a valuable run blocker on the edge. He’s graded out above average in 5 of the last 6 seasons overall and in all 6 seasons as a run blocker. His best overall season was last season, when he graded out 6th among tight ends overall. He was also 9th in 2010 and 7th in 2012. He’s one of the better tight ends in the league overall, even if he isn’t the focus of the passing offense.

Last year: 146

80. WR Keenan Allen (San Diego)

Even though he didn’t play at all week 1 and didn’t move into the starting lineup until week 4, Allen still caught 71 passes for 1046 yards and 8 touchdowns as a rookie. Rookie wide receivers aren’t supposed to get it this quickly. Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Allen blew those numbers out of the water and he was a 3rd round pick. Allen did all of this despite “only” running 510 pass snaps and seeing the bulk of the defense’s attention as a #1 wide receiver as a rookie. He averaged 2.06 yards per route run. And it wasn’t like the Chargers were forcing him the ball. Allen’s 101 targets were 31st in the NFL (he caught 70.3% of them) and Philip Rivers had a 118.1 QB rating throwing to Allen.

Last year: NA

81. S Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh)

He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked safety last season, including 2nd in coverage grade. The issue is he’s going into his age 33 season and he’s always been injury prone. He played all 16 games last season, but only 7 the season before and he’s missed 22 games in the last 5 seasons combined. When he’s on the field, he’s great. I mentioned how well he played last season, but he was also Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked safety in 2012, despite being limited to 402 snaps in 7 games. He was Pro Football Focus’ #1 safety in 16 games in 2011 and #5 safety in 14 games in 2010. He’s graded out above average in every season dating back to 2007. However, he’s very injury prone and now, going into his age 33 season, it’s tough to know how much they can count on him.

Last year: 89

82. OLB Robert Mathis (Indianapolis)

Robert Mathis tied for the NFL lead with 19 sacks last season. He’s a very talented player, but I’m going to pick him apart a little bit. While he had 19 sacks last year, he only had 5 hits and 39 hurries. That’s impressive, but not nearly as good as someone like Robert Quinn, who also had 19 sacks, but totaled 21 hits and 54 hurries. It’s for that reason that I didn’t think Mathis deserved Defensive Player of the Year consideration. Still, Mathis was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 3-4 outside linebacker last season. However, he’s going into his age 33 season and actually graded out below average in 2012. He’s unlikely to play as well in 2014 as he did in 2013, in what was one of the best years of his career. On top of that, Mathis is suspended for the first 4 games of the season for performance enhancing drugs, which will not only cost him 4 games, but could really put him behind the 8-ball this season. He’s good, but we can’t just blindly look at sack totals.

Last year: NA

83. DT Dontari Poe (Kansas City)

Dontari Poe’s 1004 snaps played led all defensive tackles and he did it in 15 games, despite being a monstrous 6-3 346. Only 5 other defensive linemen played that many snaps last season. The nose tackle stayed on the field for almost every single sub package snap, which is incredibly rare and incredibly impressive. He played every single snap in 5 games and missed 63 snaps all season, excluding the week 17 game in which the Chiefs rested their starters. In the playoff loss to Indianapolis, he dominated, while playing 59 of 67 possible snaps. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked defensive tackle. He excelled against the run, but also played well as a pass rusher, despite his massive size. In his 3rd year in the league, only his age 24 season, he could be even better. He’ll probably be more efficient at the very least if they can get him a few more breathers, though he’s not exactly someone you want to take off the field.

Last year: NA

84. S Eric Berry (Kansas City)

The 5th overall pick in 2010, Eric Berry was overrated for a while, undeservedly making the Pro-Bowl in both 2010 and 2012. Berry played well as a rookie in 2010, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked safety, but he wasn’t Pro-Bowl caliber. He could have broken out as Pro-Bowl caliber in 2011, but he tore his ACL 5 snaps into the season. He was solid again in 2012, upon his return, grading out about average on Pro Football Focus, but he still wasn’t Pro-Bowl caliber and still didn’t appear to be reaching his full potential. In 2013, his 4th year in the league, Berry did reach his potential, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked safety and deservedly making the Pro-Bowl. Now completely healthy with 1 game missed in his other 3 seasons (a meaningless week 17 game last year), Berry is going into his age 26 contract year and should have another solid season.

Last year: NA

85. DE Carlos Dunlap (Cincinnati)

Dunlap has graded out above average in every season he’s been in the league since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010 and he’s played an increasing number of snaps in every season, going from 287 snaps to 423 snaps to 601 snaps to 949 snaps last season. His best season was 2011, when he graded out 4th at his position despite only playing 423 snaps. No one graded out higher and played fewer snaps. He was 8th in 2012 and 9th in 2013 and should have another strong season this year, provided he doesn’t miss talented ex-defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer too much.

Last year: 150

86. OT Michael Roos (Tennessee)

Roos is going into his age 32 season, but he’s been a quietly dominant left tackle and a huge asset for the Titans since they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2005. He’s graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in every season since 2007, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked offensive tackle in 2012 (he was also 4th in 2008). He graded out 16th last season and has been a top-16 offensive tackle in each of the last 3 seasons, something only Joe Thomas, Andrew Whitworth, and Eugene Monroe can also say. He’s also missed just 1 start since 2007.

Last year: 67

87. OLB Elvis Dumervil (Baltimore)

Dumervil had a fantastic year last year. He only was a part-time player, playing 574 snaps, but he was an incredibly efficient pass rusher. He had 10 sacks, 11 hits, and 40 hurries on 332 pass rush snaps, a pass rush rate of 18.4%. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked 3-4 outside linebacker last season, with no one grading out higher and playing fewer snaps. He was also #1 at the position in pure pass rush grade. He was only a league average 4-3 defensive end in 2011 and 2012 with the Broncos, but, the last time he was in a system in which he didn’t have to play pure defensive end, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th best 3-4 outside linebacker in terms of pure pass rush grade, back in 2009. He’s never been a good run player no matter what system he’s played in, but he can get after the quarterback in the Ravens’ system and he serves an incredibly valuable part-time role for them as a result.

Last year: NA

88. C Jason Kelce (Philadelphia)

The Eagles got a breakout year from 3rd year center Jason Kelce, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked center last season. He’s still a one year wonder though, which is especially concerning considering he was just a 6th round pick in 2011. He struggled mightily as a rookie, grading out 33rd out of 35 eligible among centers. In 2012, he flashed on 139 snaps in 2 games before going down for the season with torn ACL and MCL. This is obviously nitpicking and he’s a very good player obviously, but expecting him to be as dominant as he was last year is a little short-sighted.

Last year: NA

89. QB Russell Wilson (Seattle)

Russell Wilson, a 2012 3rd round pick, has proven to be one of the greatest draft steals in NFL history. Obviously he got a lot of help from his supporting cast en route to winning the Super Bowl in his 2nd season in the league, but he did a lot of it on his own, completing 63.6% of his passes for an average of 8.09 YPA, 50 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions in 2 seasons in the league (100.6 QB rating). He’s also added 1028 yards and 5 touchdowns rushing on 190 carries (5.41 YPC) in 2 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked quarterback in 2012 and 4th ranked quarterback in 2013. Only going into his age 26 season, his 3rd year in the league, he might not have even peaked yet and he’s put himself among the NFL’s top quarterbacks.

Last year: 157

90. DT Randy Starks (Miami)

Starks is an underrated, under-mentioned player who has graded out above average in each of the last 6 seasons from 2008-2013 since becoming a starter, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2009 and 7th ranked defensive tackle in 2013. He has scheme versatility at 6-3 312 and can play both 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 and defensive tackle in a 4-3. He’s also equally good as a pass rusher and run stopper. He was the only defensive tackle to grade out in the top-7 in both run stopping grade and pass rushing grade last season. Even though he’s going into his age 31 season, he’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career.

Last year: 145

91. MLB Karlos Dansby (Cleveland)

Karlos Dansby was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked middle linebacker last season. Dansby might never have another year as good as last season again, as he’s going into his age 33 season, and as he had never been a top-10 middle linebacker on Pro Football Focus prior to last season, but he graded out 12th in 2010, 11th in 2011, and 13th in 2012. Dansby should still have a strong season.

Last year: NA

92. G Ben Grubbs (New Orleans)

At the left guard position, the Saints have Ben Grubbs, who they signed to a 5-year, 36 million dollar deal after the 2011 season, replacing the departed Carl Nicks. Grubbs has been worth that, grading out 7th at his position in 2012 and 11th in 2013. Grubbs, a 2007 1st round pick, broke out in his 3rd year in the league in 2009 and has been a top-16 guard in 5 straight seasons on Pro Football Focus. Only Green Bay’s Josh Sitton can also say the same.

Last year: 96

93. CB Alterraun Verner (Tampa Bay)

Verner has never been spectacular, maxing out 10th overall in 2011 (he graded out 13th last season). However, he’s made all 64 starts since being drafted in the 4th round in 2010 and he’s graded out in the top-25 on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons, something only Joe Haden and Jason McCourty can also say at the inconsistent cornerback position. The common opinion is that Verner broke out last season, when he had a career high 5 interceptions, after a combined 6 interceptions in his first 3 seasons in the league, but that’s the danger with just looking at interception numbers. He’s been a solid player in entire career in Tennessee’s zone defense and will be a cheaper, better scheme fit in Tampa Bay’s zone defense than Darrelle Revis would have been.

Last year: NA

94. OT Cordy Glenn (Buffalo)

Cordy Glenn, a 2012 2nd round pick, has developed into one of the better blindside protectors in the game. After a solid rookie year in 2012, when he graded out 33rd at his position, he ranked 13th in 2013. He could be even better, going into his 3rd year in the league, in 2014. He had a mysterious off-season illness, but he seems to be recovered now and should be 100% for week 1.

Last year: NA

95. WR AJ Green (Cincinnati)

Green has been Pro Football Focus’ 22nd, 8th, and 14thranked wide receiver in pass catching grade in his first 3 seasons in the league respectively. Green has averaged 2.25 yards per route run in his career. He’s only caught 59.0% of his career targets and had 26 drops, 19 penalties, and 22 interceptions when thrown to throughout his career, so he has some issues that don’t show up on a traditional stat sheet, but he’s still one of the better wide receivers in the game. The Bengals already picked up his 5th year option for 2015, which was a no brainer. Expect a lucrative extension soon.

Last year: 19

96. OLB Trent Cole (Philadelphia)

Trent Cole had a revival year last year in his first year in a 3-4, as the 6-2 260 pounder graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker. I call it a revival year because he struggled by his standards in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked 4-3 defensive end. That was his worst season since 2007 as he had graded out in the top-6 among 4-3 defensive ends in every season from 2008-2011, including #1 in both 2010 and 2011. That was a concern because Trent Cole is an aging player, which remains a concern even after his strong 2013 season. He’s going into his age 32 season.

Last year: NA

97. DT Brandon Mebane (Seattle)

Brandon Mebane was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked defensive tackle last season. That’s the best season of his career as the 2007 3rd round pick had never graded out higher than 5th (2008) and he’s only graded out above average in 4 of 7 seasons in the league. I don’t expect him to be quite that good again, but he could easily have another very strong season.

Last year: NA

98. OT Ryan Clady (Denver)

Clady went down for the season week 2 after 146 snaps, tearing ligaments in his foot. Clady was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked offensive tackle in 2012. He won’t necessarily be that good again as he’s coming off of injury and that’s easily the best season of his career. The 2008 first round pick was Pro Football Focus’ 30thranked offensive tackle in 2008, 16th ranked in 2009, 9th ranked in 2010, but 63rd ranked in 2011. However, having him back on the blindside is an obvious positive for the Broncos.

Last year: 49

99. DE DeMarcus Ware (Denver)

The Broncos signed to DeMarcus Ware to a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal this off-season. That deal was an overpay, especially since the first two seasons are completely guaranteed, as he’s a declining player going into his age 32 season. While Ware is declining, that’s only because he was a top-4 3-4 outside linebacker on Pro Football Focus in every season from 2008-2011. He “only” graded out 8th among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2012 and 8th among 4-3 defensive ends in 2013. Those days of being an elite player are probably gone, as he goes into his age 32 season and after missing the first 3 games of his career last year, but he should still be a well above average starter and an asset, especially on passing downs.

Last year: 64

100. WR Andre Johnson (Houston)

Johnson missed valuable time with a new quarterback and head coach thanks to an off-season holdout. He’s also going into his age 33 season, which makes that holdout even more concerning. Johnson’s 12,661 yards are 17th all-time and he could easily be Hall-of-Fame bound when it’s all said and done. However, even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Johnson isn’t quite there right now, but he’s at the point in his career where is age is becoming a concern. He probably won’t be as productive as last season, when he caught 109 passes for 1407 yards and 5 touchdowns on 176 attempts (61.9%) and 613 routes run, an average of 2.30 yards per route run.

Last year: 90

Aug 302014
 

101. WR Dez Bryant (Dallas)

Dez Bryant is the leader of the Cowboys’ receiving corps, though he’s not quite as good as his numbers would suggest. He was Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked wide receiver in pass catching grade in 2010 as a first round rookie, 12th in 2011, 40th in 2012, and 14th in 2013. He’s averaged 1.97 yards per route run in his 4 year career and caught 63.1% of his targets, which is above average, but not fantastic. He’s averaged 2.09 yards per route run over the past 2 seasons, but he’s also dropped 22 passes. Still, he’s going into his age 26 season only and he could have a very big contract year.

Last year: 34

102. OT DeMar Dotson (Tampa Bay)

DeMar Dotson has been a very solid starter since becoming a starter in 2012. He was Pro Football Focus’ 40th ranked offensive tackle in 2012 and then he was even better in his 2nd season as a starter last year, grading out 14th among offensive tackles (2ndamong right tackles). He’s still a one year wonder as a top level player so he could regress a little bit this season, but he should still be one of the better right tackles in the game.

Last year: NA

103. DT Haloti Ngata (Baltimore)

Haloti Ngata should lead the Ravens’ defensive line in snaps played for the 5th straight season this year, playing at 3-4 nose tackle, 3-4 defensive end, and 4-3 defensive tackle. He played 714 snaps last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked defensive tackle. He’s graded in the top-18 among either defensive tackles or 3-4 defensive ends in each of the last 7 seasons, dating back to 2007. He maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked defensive tackle in 2010 and 3rd ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2007. He’s primarily a run stopper at 6-4 340, but moves well for his size and generates some pass rush.

Last year: 108

104. CB Lardarius Webb (Baltimore)

Coming off a torn ACL, Lardarius Webb wasn’t quite his top self in 2013, as is often the case after an injury like that, but he still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked cornerback. At his best, he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, grading out 4th in 2011 before that 2012 injury. The 2009 3rd round pick was very impressive as a part-time player in 2009 and 2010 as well and played well before going down with injury in 2012. He’s only played 2 full seasons in the NFL as a starter, but he’s only going into his age 29 season and could easily bounce back to top form this season.

Last year: 68

105. OLB Vontaze Burfict (Cincinnati)

Vontaze Burfict is an every down outside linebacker who broke out last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker last season, in his 2nd year in the league. The Arizona State product was heavily recruited out of high school and profiled as a potential 1st round pick going into his junior season in 2011, but he had a down year, a poor combine, and did not get good recommendations from his coaches, causing him to go undrafted. However, he’s shown his natural talent in Cincinnati, becoming a starter in week 3 of his rookie season, grading out about average as a rookie and then dominating last season. He’s still a one year wonder, which is especially a concern given his history. We don’t know how he’ll handle his success, after he got a 3 year, 19.43 million dollar extension this off-season. However, only going into his age 24 season, he could easily have another dominant season as an every down linebacker.

Last year: NA

106. CB Chris Harris (Denver)

Chris Harris tore his ACL back in January, which is going to make it tough for him to return for the start of the season. Even when he returns, he might not be 100% all season. At his best, he’s a great cornerback though. As a pure slot cornerback in part-time work as an undrafted rookie in 2011, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked cornerback on just 465 snaps. Over the past two seasons as a full-time starter, he’s graded out 5th and 8th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. Only Richard Sherman has also graded out top-8 among cornerbacks in each of the last 2 seasons. Harris’ specialty is the slot as he’s ranked 2nd and 5th in 2012 and 2013 respectively in QB rating allowed on the slot. That’s where he’ll be missed the most, but he’s also an outside cornerback in base packages.

Last year: 144

107. WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco)

Down the stretch in 2012, Crabtree looked on his way to finally becoming the top receiver the 49ers envisioned he’d become when they drafted him 10th overall in 2009. After Kaepernick took over as the starter full time in week 11, Crabtree caught 61 passes for 880 yards and 8 touchdowns in 10 games, including playoffs. That’s 98 catches for 1408 yards and 13 touchdowns over 16 games. The issue is he tore his Achilles in May of 2013, which caused him to miss 11 games in 2013 and limited him upon his return. Last season, he caught 34 passes for 487 yards and a touchdown in 8 games (including playoffs), 68 passes for 974 yards and 2 touchdowns over 16 games, which is nowhere near as good as he was down the stretch in 2012, but incredibly impressive considering he was just 6-8 months removed from that injury. The 49ers moved the chains at a 73.84% rate in games he played last season, as opposed to 69.13% in games he missed. He should be healthy, now 16 months removed from the injury.

Last year: NA

108. RB Marshawn Lynch (Seattle)

Over the past 3 seasons, Lynch has rushed for 4051 yards and 35 touchdowns on 901 carries (4.50 yards per carry) and adding 87 catches for 724 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. However, there’s some reason for concern. Lynch is going into his age 28 season with 1753 career carries. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. And after players have their drop off, they average just 169 carries per season at 3.52 yards per carry and just 5 touchdowns, so they’re really a non-factor as a back. Lynch is 52nd all-time with 7389 rushing yards. He’s not at the level where the Seahawks should be worried that his abilities completely fall off a cliff, but age is starting to become a factor. He could show some decline this season, especially since he’s had 988 regular season touches over the past 3 regular seasons combined. Last season, he had 403 touches including post-season, most in the NFL. That’s especially concerning considering his violent running style. On top of that, Lynch missed a significant amount of off-season practices with a holdout, which won’t help him.

Last year: 42

109. DE Jason Hatcher (Washington)

Jason Hatcher has experience in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 and has been dominant over the past 2 seasons, playing in a 3-4 in 2012 and a 4-3 in 2013. He was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2012 and 8th ranked defensive tackle in 2013. He was a deadly interior pass rusher in a 4-3, but he’s probably better suited to a 3-4. His all-around game was better in 2012 in a 3-4 as the undersized 6-6 285 pounder did struggle against the run in a 4-3 in 2013, grading out below average in that aspect. The late bloomer was also Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2011 as a talented reserve on 428 snaps, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out higher that season.

Last year: 134

110. QB Matt Ryan (Atlanta)

Matt Ryan really carried this team last season. Despite having no running game to help him, a crumbling offensive line, and a depleted receiving corps, he still led this offense to move the chains at a 73.69% rate, 11th in the NFL. He had his worst quarterback rating since 2009, but a quarterback rating of 89.6 is still really solid and most of his statistical decline can be attributed to the decline of his supporting cast. He completed 67.4% of his passes for an average of 6.94 YPA, 26 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked quarterback. That’s the 2nd worst season of his career in that aspect (3rd in 2008, 20th in 2009, 2nd in 2010, 4th in 2011, 5th in 2012), but he should bounce back and be a top-10 quarterback again this season. For his career, he’s completed 63.7% of his passes for an average of 7.14 YPA, 153 touchdowns, and 77 interceptions.

Last year: 99

111. OT Jared Veldheer (Arizona)

The 2010 3rd round pick was Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked offensive tackle in 2011 and 15th ranked offensive tackle in 2012. The Cardinals signed him to shore up the blindside. Veldheer comes cheaper than he would have because of an injury that limited him to 335 snaps in 2013, as the Cardinals get him for 35 million over 5 years when he probably could have commanded upwards of 40 million over 5 years he had not been hurt. It was smart for the Cardinals to pounce on him after an injury plagued year because he doesn’t have much of a history of injury before last season, because it was an upper body injury (torn triceps), which usually doesn’t cause many long-term problems, and because he’s still young, going into his age 27 season. He should bounce back in a big way this season.

Last year: 105

112. DE Mario Williams (Buffalo)

Mario WIlliams been a solid, but unspectacular player in pretty much every season since he was drafted first overall in 2006 by the Texans, grading out well above average in each of the past 7 seasons, maxing out at 11th in 2009. Last season, he was 17th among 3-4 rush linebackers. He’s played both 4-3 end and 3-4 outside linebacker and has been equally good in both schemes. He’s very durable and has played all 16 games and 900+ snaps in 6 of 8 professional seasons. He might not necessarily be worth the 6-year, 96 million dollar deal the Bills gave him before the 2012 season, but he’s an obvious asset for them and should continue to be one this season.

Last year: 97

113. CB Desmond Trufant (Atlanta)

One of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Falcons in 2014 was 1st round rookie Desmond Trufant, who started all 16 games at cornerback and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked cornerback, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 53.4% of passes when throwing on him and tying for the league lead with 15 pass deflections. Rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle in their first year in the league, but Trufant looked like a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Even more promising is the fact that he played his best football down the stretch last season, grading out well above average in 4 of his final 6 games after doing so in just 2 of his first 10 games. He allowed 15 completions on 31 attempts in those 6 games and didn’t grade out below average once. He’s on the fast track to becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL if he stays on this trajectory.

Last year: NA

114. OT Phil Loadholt (Minnesota)

Phil Loadholt is a dominant offensive lineman. The 6-8 343 pounder is solely a right tackle, but he’s still a huge asset for them, dominating in run blocking and holding up well in pass protection. He’s been a 5-year starter for them since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2009, making 78 of 80 starts, and he’s graded out above average in 4 out of 5 seasons, including each of the last 3 seasons. He’s gotten better in each of the last 3 seasons, going from Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked offensive tackle in 2011, to 21st in 2012, to 11th last season, the best season of his career. He should have another strong season in 2014.

Last year: NA

115. C Mike Pouncey (Miami)

The 15th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft had a lackluster rookie year, but he has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked center in 2012 and 13th ranked center in 2013. His twin brother Maurkice is the bigger name, playing center for the Steelers and somehow making 3 Pro-Bowls and 3 All-Pros in 3 healthy seasons, but Mike is the better football player. The issue is that Pouncey has a bad hip and will miss the start of the season.

Last year: 94

116. DE LaMarr Houston (Chicago)

The Bears replaced the aging, expensive Julius Peppers with LaMarr Houston this off-season. The aging Peppers (going into his age 34 season) graded out below average last season, while Houston is still in the prime of his career (going into his age 27 season) and coming off of a season in which he was Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked 4-3 defensive end. That’s nothing new for him as the 2010 2nd round pick was 11th at his position in 2012 and 20th at his position in 2011. He’ll be an upgrade over Peppers for both the short-term and the long-term. Like he did in Oakland, he’ll move inside on passing downs.

Last year: 169

117. DE Mike Daniels (Green Bay)

The biggest bright spot on the Packers’ weak defense last season was the emergence of 2nd year player Mike Daniels at 5-technique. The 2012 4th round pick was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 3-4 defensive end last season on 517 snaps. The 6-0 294 pounder was primarily an interior pass rusher in sub packages and he should primarily be that again, though he will probably see more snaps. He played 275 snaps in the Packers’ final 8 games. He’s still a one year wonder, grading out below average on 231 snaps as a rookie, but he could easily have another strong year.

Last year: NA

118. S Tyrann Mathieu (Arizona)

Last season, Tyrann Mathieu, a 3rd round rookie, graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked cornerback, splitting time as a slot cornerback and a safety. However, Mathieu tore his ACL week 14 and his status for the start of the season is in doubt. Even when he returns, he could be less than 100% and completely behind the 8-ball after missing the entire off-season of practice. This year, with more depth at cornerback, the Cardinals want him to play full-time at safety, provided he’s on the field.

Last year: NA

119. MLB Bobby Wagner (Seattle)

Wagner was a 2012 2nd round pick and arguably was better than Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked middle linebacker, right behind only Patrick Willis. He graded out “just” 12th in 2013 thanks to injuries. He missed 2 games and was limited in others. He might not be as good as he was in 2012 again, but he should have a bounce back year.

Last year: 65

120. WR TY Hilton (Indianapolis)

Hilton caught 82 passes for 1083 yards and 5 touchdowns on 533 routes run, an average of 2.03 yards per route run. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 33rd ranked wide receiver. He’s no longer just a deep threat reliant on big plays to make an impact, as he was as a rookie when he caught 50 passes for 861 yards and 7 touchdowns on 479 routes run, an average of 1.80 yards per route run. Now going into his 3rd year in the league, a common breakout year for wide receivers, Hilton could be even better. The 2012 3rd round pick is going into only his age 25 season. He was dominant in the post-season, catching 17 passes for 327 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2 games. He’ll once again be the Colts’ #1 receiver in 2014.

Last year: NA

121. RB Matt Forte (Chicago)

He’s graded out above average in 3 of the last 4 seasons and last season he was the definition of a three-down back, leading the position in snaps played with 940, 50 snaps more than any other running back in the NFL. It’s rare to find a running back who is well-rounded enough to stay on the field for every down. He was Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked running back in terms of run grade last season, rushing for 1339 yards and 9 touchdowns, 4.63 YPC. He was even better as a pass catcher, grading out 6th at his position in that aspect. He caught 74 passes on 86 targets (86.0%) for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns on 433 routes run (1.37 yards per route run). If he doesn’t get injured or decline, he should have another strong season, but there’s a good chance he does get injured or decline. He’s going into his age 29 season with 1892 career touches in 6 seasons so it’s starting to become a concern.

Last year: 123

122. G David DeCastro (Pittsburgh)

David DeCastro was a 2012 1st round pick. He missed most of his rookie year with injury and struggled on 138 snaps upon his return, but in 2013, fully healthy, he showed why some saw him as the best interior offensive line prospect of the decade, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked guard. He could be even better in 2014, in his 3rd year in the league.

Last year: NA

123. S Glover Quin (Detroit)

Glover Quin was one of the best safeties in the NFL last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked safety. The 2009 4th round pick has graded out above average in each of the last 4 seasons, playing cornerback in 2010 and then safety in 2011-2013. Last year was a career year for him so he might not repeat that kind of season, but he could easily have another above average season for a secondary that needs it.

Last year: NA

124. DE Arthur Jones (Indianapolis)

A 2010 5th round pick, Arthur Jones developed from a solid reserve in 2011 on 255 snaps to a solid starter on 536 snaps to a breakout player in 2013 on 530 snaps, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 3-4 defensive end. He’s is a talented player, but he was overpaid by the Colts this off-season, getting 33 million over 5 years with 16 million guaranteed. At his best, he’s worth that kind of money, but he’s still just a one year wonder at this point in his career. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue to be this good. He’s never played more than 536 snaps in a season and he’s never been the key cog on Baltimore’s defensive line, rotating often and playing alongside Haloti Ngata.

Last year: NA

125. DE Jerry Hughes (Buffalo)

Jerry Hughes is a former 1st round pick of the Colts, going 31st overall in 2010, and looked like a bust in the first 2 years of his career with the Colts, struggling on just 240 snaps combined at 4-3 defensive end. He was a little better on 610 snaps in his 3rd year in the league as a 3-4 rush linebacker in 2012 on 610 snaps and broke out in Buffalo last season as a rush linebacker, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 3-4 rush linebacker, including 3rd in pure pass rush grade, on 621 snaps. There’s obviously concern though with him switching back to 4-3 defensive end and with Mike Pettine being gone. He obviously has natural talent, which is why he went in the first round, but he’s still a one year wonder and losing both the defensive coordinator and the scheme in which he broke out last season has to be concerning.

Last year: NA

Aug 302014
 

This 8-part series counts down the top-200 players in the NFL. 200 might sounds like a lot, but with 53 players on 32 teams’ rosters, that’s 1696 players. Count guys on the practice squad, guys on the PUP or the IR, and guys who are free agents, but still on teams’ radar. That’s probably 2000 players. These guys are the top 10%. Positional value doesn’t matter because if it did, this list would be too quarterback heavy.

126. OLB Thomas Davis (Carolina)

Davis graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked 4-3 outside linebacker, including #1 in coverage last season. There’s definitely concern though, whether or not he keeps this up though, as he’s going into his age 31 season with 3 torn ACLs on his resume. The fact that he’s even still able to play, let alone dominate like he did last season, is incredibly impressive, but his injury history is a serious elephant in the room with him. Thomas played a combined 9 games from 2009-2011 thanks to injuries. He’s missed just 1 game over the past 2 seasons, grading out 11th at his position in 2012 and then 3rd last season, so he could be fine going forward. He was also good prior to his injury, grading out above average in both 2007 and 2008. It’s just hard to expect a player to repeat the best season of his career at age 31 with essentially 3 seasons lost to injury in his career.

Last year: NA

127. OLB Junior Galette (New Orleans)

Junior Galette really benefited from the Saints’ scheme switch to a 3-4, breaking out last season in his first season as a starter, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker. The 2010 undrafted free agent flashed as a pass rusher in 2011 and 2012, grading out 31st and 17th among 4-3 defensive ends in that aspect in those 2 seasons respectively in a part-time role, but he was limited to 372 and 301 snaps in those 2 seasons respectively because the 6-2 258 pounder sucked against the run. Moving to 3-4 outside linebacker, the run game became easier for him and he was able to play 848 snaps. He still graded out slightly below average against the run, but it wasn’t as big of a deal at his new position, especially since he ended up ranking 10th at his position rushing the passer.

Last year: NA

128. WR Marques Colston (New Orleans)

Colston showed statistical decline last season, catching 75 passes for 943 yards and 5 touchdowns. It tied a career low for touchdowns and it was only the 2nd season of his 8-year career in which he went under 1000 yards, with the other season being a season in which he played just 11 games. However, he was still really efficient, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked wide receiver, catching 70.1% of his targets and averaging 1.77 yards per route run. He’s going into his age 31 season, but he’s graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in every season since they began in 2007. He should have another solid season and probably lead Saint wide receivers in catches and yards.

Last year: 135

129. TE Greg Olsen (Carolina)

The Panthers lost every single wide receiver who caught a pass for them last season. The good news is tight end Greg Olsen was their leading receiver last season and he’s still around. He will almost definitely lead them in receiving again this season. Last season, he caught 73 passes on 102 attempts (71.6%) for 816 yards and 6 touchdowns on 482 routes run, an average of 1.69 yards per route run. He ranked 9th among eligible tight ends in yards per route run and 4th in pure pass catching grade. He’s graded out above average in 6 of 7 seasons he’s been in the league since being drafted in the 1st round in 2007, including above average as a pass catcher in all 7 seasons. He hasn’t always been a great run blocker, but there have been seasons in which he showed himself to be strong in that aspect. He’s an above average tight end and one of the Panthers’ best offensive players.

Last year: 84

130. G Jon Asamoah (Atlanta)

The Falcons signed ex-Chief Jon Asamoah to a 5-year 22.5 million dollar deal to play right guard this off-season. It was a very good move at a position of need. Asamoah, a 2010 3rdround pick, made 41 starts over the past 3 seasons combined at right guard in Kansas City and graded out 16th, 10th, and 21st in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively.

Last year: 133

131. C Stefen Wisniewski (Oakland)

Stefen Wisniewski is probably the Raiders’ best offensive lineman and maybe their best player. A 2011 2nd round pick, Wisniewski has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 11th ranked center in the last 2 seasons respectively, after playing left guard as a rookie. The Raiders would be wise to extend him long-term, as he goes into his contract year.

Last year: NA

132. OLB Jerod Mayo (New England)

Jerod Mayo missed 10 games with a torn pectoral last season. The concern for his health going into 2014 should be limited as the 2008 1st round pick had missed 5 games in 5 seasons prior to this injury. It was also an upper body injury instead of a lower body injury and he’s already a full participant at OTAs. When healthy, Mayo is one of the better 4-3 outside linebackers in the game. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2012 and 7th ranked in 2011, after converting from being a 3-4 middle linebacker, where he wasn’t quite as good.

Last year: 72

133. RB Eddie Lacy (Green Bay)

Last season, Eddie Lacy rushed for 1178 yards and 11 touchdowns on 284 attempts, an average of 4.15 YPC. He also added 35 catches for 257 yards, en route to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. That YPC doesn’t seem terribly impressive, but he consistently carried the load, got positive yardage, and moved the chains. He had 73 first downs on 319 targets, including 61 first downs on 284 carries. He was 5th among running backs in rushing first downs. He also graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked running back, grading out above average as both a runner and a pass catcher. On top of that, he played his best football when Aaron Rodgers was out of the lineup, helping to carry this team. He rushed for 666 yards and 7 touchdowns on 151 carries, an average of 4.41 YPC, and added 21 catches for 164 yards in the 8 games Rodgers missed. Going into his 2nd year in the league, Lacy could be even better, after playing most of his rookie year through an ankle injury and getting stronger as the year went on.

Last year: NA

134. QB Matt Stafford (Detroit)

Stafford, the first overall pick in 2009, struggled in his first 2 years in the NFL, missing 19 games and completing 54.5% of his passes for an average of 5.92 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. However, he’s played all 48 games over the past 3 seasons, completing 60.6% of his passes for an average of 7.24 YPA, 90 touchdowns, and 52 interceptions. He’s also been better than his numbers, as he had 46 passes dropped in 2011 (most in the NFL), 49 passes dropped in 2012 (2nd most in the NFL), and 59 passes dropped in 2013 (most in the NFL). He was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked quarterback in 2011, 13th ranked quarterback in 2012, and 7th ranked quarterback in 2013.

Last year: NA

135. DT Jared Odrick (Miami)

Jared Odrick had a fantastic season last year, grading out 16th among defensive tackles and excelling as a pass rusher. He remains a one year wonder, but he was a 1st round pick in 2010 and last year was the first season he was allowed to play his natural role as a 4-3 penetrating defensive tackle. It’s no surprise that he had by far his best season in that role. Odrick missed all but one game in his rookie season with injury and was just about average on 597 snaps in 2011 as a 3-4 defensive end. The Dolphins switched to a 4-3 going into the 2012 season, which should have helped him, but they decided to play him primarily at 4-3 defensive end, which was a bad fit for the 6-5 304 pounder. He struggled mightily, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked 4-3 defensive end. He was solid against the run, but couldn’t generate any pass rush, ranking 3rd worst in that aspect. He could easily have another strong year as a 4-3 defensive tackle in 2014, which would set him up for a big payday going into free agency in 2015.

Last year: NA

136. C Nick Mangold (NY Jets)

Mangold was once inarguably the top center in the NFL, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 or #2 center in every season from 2007-2011, something no one else could come close to saying. However, he “fell” to 6th in 2012 and then all the way to 19th in 2013, below average. He could bounce back this season, but his best years are probably behind him as he goes into his age 30 season. It’s a steep fall for a player who was 13th on this list last season.

Last year: 13

137. G Brandon Brooks (Houston)

As bad as the Texans’ season was last season, there were still bright spots. The breakout season of right guard Brandon Brooks was one of them. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked guard last season, in his 2nd year in the league after being drafted in the 3rd round in 2012. He was only alright as a pass blocker, but he excelled as a run blocker at 6-5 343, grading out 3rd at his position in that aspect. He’s still a one-year wonder, after playing 111 nondescript snaps as a rookie, but he could easily have another strong year this year, in his 3rd year in the league.

Last year: NA

138. WR Pierre Garcon (Washington)

Garcon missed 6 games and was limited in others in 2012, in the first year of a highly speculative 5-year, 42.5 million dollar deal (he had never surpassed 1000 yards in 4 seasons in Indianapolis despite playing primarily with Peyton Manning. However, Garcon still flashed in 2012 on 403 snaps, grading out well above average and catching 44 passes for 633 yards and 4 touchdowns on 215 routes run, an average of 2.94 yards per route run that was 2nd best in the NFL. Given that he did that with a bad foot, it was very promising for 2013. He wasn’t quite as efficient in 2013, but that’s to be expected considering he had significantly more playing time and his quarterback play was significantly worse. He was still really good, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked wide receiver. He caught 113 catches on 174 targets (64.9%) for 1346 yards and 5 touchdowns on 615 routes run, an average of 2.19 yards per route run, 12th in the NFL. He was largely a volume receiver, catching primarily underneath targets, with only 25 catches 10+ yards downfield, and finishing 2nd in the NFL in targets, so he wasn’t quite as good as his numbers suggested, but he was still very good.

Last year: NA

139. OT King Dunlap (San Diego)

Dunlap took a lot of heat in Philadelphia in 2012, when the 2008 7th round pick and career backup took over for an injured Jason Peters at left tackle. Dunlap was blamed for a lot of the Eagles’ problems on the offensive line and on the team in general. In reality, he actually played pretty well, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus, including 20th in pass blocking. The Chargers were able to get him on a 2-year, 3.95 million dollar deal and he proved to be more than worth it after he won the starting job in Training Camp. Despite missing 5 games with injury, Dunlap graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked offensive tackle. No offensive tackle played fewer snaps and graded out higher. Dunlap might not be quite as good in 2014, but he could also be even better if he’s able to stay healthy and on the field for more games.

Last year: NA

140. OT Andre Smith (Cincinnati)

There was concern going into last season that Andre Smith would coast once he received the 3-year, 18 million dollar deal he got from the Bengals to re-sign in the previous off-season. In fact, that concern is part of the reason why he didn’t get a bigger contract than that. Smith had weight and motivation concerns coming out of college and struggled mightily in his first 2 seasons in the league. The Bengals exercised an option in his contract after his 2nd season in the league to cut it from a 6-year to a 4-year deal. That seemed to wake him up, as he graded out 28th among offensive tackles in 2011 and 4th in 2012. There was concern that he’d go back to coasting once he got paid, but he graded out 20th in 2013, so he definitely quelled some of those concerns. Now with 3 straight solid seasons on his resume, the naturally talented right tackle seems poised for another strong year.

Last year: 143

141. WR Julian Edelman (New England)

Edelman finished the regular season with 105 catches for 1056 yards and 6 touchdowns. He averaged 1.76 yards per route run. For comparison’s sake, Wes Welker averaged 1.64 yards per route run in 2013. Edelman did get more targets as he was a bigger part of New England’s offense, but he also caught a significantly higher percentage of his targets (71.9% to 67.0%) even though he commanded more of the defense’s attention. As a result, Edelman was Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked wide receiver in pass catching grade, while Welker came in at 39th. The Patriots gave Edelman a deserved 4-year, 17 million dollar deal this off-season as a free agent, as he goes into his age 28 season. Still, the Patriots do need to become less reliant on Edelman and have other receivers step up for Brady to throw to. Edelman is still a former undrafted one-year wonder who had 69 catches in the previous 4 seasons, while missing a combined 16 games over those 4 seasons.

Last year: NA

142. G Mike Iupati (San Francisco)

Iupati missed 4 games with injury and graded out just about average. He has a solid chance of bouncing back this season though. The 2010 1st round pick is going into his contract year so he has every motivation to play his best. Another strong season could make him one of the highest paid guards in the NFL. He also isn’t a one-year wonder, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked guard in 2010, 11th ranked guard in 2011, and 5th ranked guard in 2012. He’s only missed 4 games in his career, those 4 games last season, and last season was the fluke when looking at his career. He could easily have another strong season in 2014.

Last year: 45

143. QB Nick Foles (Philadelphia)

Foles broke into the lineup because of a Vick injury (what else) and took the starting job and ran with it, completing 64.0% of his passes for an average of 9.12 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He led the league in QB rating at 119.2, ahead of even Peyton Manning, and finished with the 3rd best QB rating season all time. In games in which Nick Foles started and finished the game, the Eagles moved the chains at a 78.69% rate, as opposed to 70.04% in their other games. That’s the difference between the 2nd and the 20th best offense last season. He was Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked quarterback, which is less impressive than his statistics, which again suggests that much of his production was a result of the system, the coaching, and the talent around him. Still, he had a strong season last year and the Eagles have a great combination of quarterback and head coach.

Last year: NA

144. WR Victor Cruz (NY Giants)

An undrafted free agent from the University of Massachusetts in 2010, Cruz didn’t play a snap as a rookie. Over the past 3 seasons though, he’s caught 241 passes on 376 attempts (64.1%) for 3626 yards and 23 touchdowns on 1541 routes run, an average of 2.35 yards per route run. He hasn’t been quite as good as his numbers have suggested, grading out 28th on Pro Football Focus in 2011, 44th in 2012, and 44th in 2013, but he’s still a very solid wide receiver.

Last year: 101

145. QB Andrew Luck (Indianapolis)

In 2 seasons in the league, Andrew Luck is 14-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, 15-2 if you include a one point comeback home win over the Chiefs in last year’s playoffs. The Colts have won 22 regular season games over the past 2 seasons. 14 of them have come by 7 points or fewer. That’s not sustainable. Luck’s statistics haven’t been that great, as he’s completed 57.0% of his passes for 6.85 YPA, 46 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions, while rushing for 632 yards and 9 touchdowns on 125 carries (5.06 YPC). However, Luck hasn’t had a lot of help in terms of his supporting cast. Luck was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked quarterback in 2013, improved from 2012 when he was 16th. Going into his 3rd year in the league, he could be even better in 2014.

Last year: NA

146. WR Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay)

Jackson has graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in every season since their origin in 2007, maxing out at #1 with San Diego in 2009 and #6 in 2012 with Tampa Bay. Over the past 6 seasons, he’s caught 351 passes for 6227 yards and 43 touchdowns on 624 targets (56.3%) and 2835 routes run, an average of 2.20 yards per route run. He’s a deep threat and not a consistent volume receiver, but he’s one of the better wide receivers in the league. The one minor concern is that he’s going into his age 31 season, but that’s probably not a problem yet.

Last year: 92

147. DE Justin Tuck (Oakland)

Tuck has obviously had some great seasons, including last season when he was Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked 4-3 defensive end, but he’s going into his age 31 season. He also was just about a league average starter in 2011 and 2012 and missed 5 games and was limited in several others during that time frame. The 6-5 268 pounder will continue to play defensive end in base packages and move inside to defensive tackle in sub packages.

Last year: NA

148. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (NY Giants)

The Giants signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a 5-year, 35 million dollar deal this off-season. That’s a risky move considering his inconsistent history, but it could pay off if he plays his best. A 2008 1st round pick, DRC made the Pro-Bowl in 2009 and looked on his way towards cementing his place as one of the league’s best cornerbacks, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked cornerback that year. However, 2010 was the exact opposite for him, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ dead last ranked cornerback, which turned him into a throw-in to Philadelphia in the Kevin Kolb trade. His tenure in Philadelphia wasn’t good, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 84th ranked cornerback out of 109 eligible in 2011 and 91st ranked cornerback out of 113 eligible in 2012 as part of a massively disappointing Philadelphia secondary. That earned him a one-year prove it deal in Denver, worth about 4 million dollars, but he did prove it, grading out 6th among cornerbacks. There’s no guarantee he doesn’t struggle and coast now that he’s gotten paid though.

Last year: NA

149. OLB Jason Worilds (Pittsburgh)

Worilds was Pro Football Focus’ 14th 3-4 outside linebacker last season on 792 snaps. The Steelers will pay Worilds 9.754 million on the transition tag this season, as they were been unable to reach a long-term deal with him. Worilds is still a one year wonder, after the 2010 2nd round pick played a combined 979 snaps in his first 3 seasons in the league, maxing out at 501 in 2011. However, he graded out above average 2 of those 3 seasons, so it’s definitely possible that the one-time highly rated prospect could continue this strong play into 2014. He’ll have to prove himself on a one-year deal, but he could command a lot of money in free agency this off-season if he repeats what he did last season, which would probably put him out of the cap strapped Steelers’ price range.

Last year: NA

150. OLB Terrell Suggs (Baltimore)

Terrell Suggs restructured his contract this off-season, coming off of a down year, but it was still a 5-year, 28.5 million dollar deal with 16 million guaranteed. He still had a good year last year, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, grading out slightly above average as a pass rusher and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, but he wasn’t as good he was previously was, when he was Pro Football Focus’ #2 ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2011 and #7 ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2010. He’s now going into his age 32 season, so his best days are probably behind him, and he could have ruined his body playing through two serious injuries in 2012, when graded out below average. He should still be an asset though.

Last year: 80

Aug 292014
 

This 8-part series counts down the top-200 players in the NFL. 200 might sounds like a lot, but with 53 players on 32 teams’ rosters, that’s 1696 players. Count guys on the practice squad, guys on the PUP or the IR, and guys who are free agents, but still on teams’ radar. That’s probably 2000 players. These guys are the top 10%. Positional value doesn’t matter because if it did, this list would be too quarterback heavy.

151. TE Julius Thomas (Denver)

Last season, Julius Thomas caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns on 436 routes run (1.81 yards per route run). He’s a solid pass catcher, but he’s a one year wonder (1 catch on 50 snaps in his first 2 seasons in the league after going in the 4th round in 2011) and he benefits a lot from having Peyton Manning under center. He’s also an awful blocker, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked tight end in run blocking grade. He’s still one of the better tight ends in the league though and a serious matchup problem, grading out 3rd best among tight ends in pass catching grade.

Last year: NA

152. DT Kawaan Short (Carolina)

Star Lotulelei was the Panthers 1st round pick in 2013, while Short was their 2nd rounder, but Short is better than Lotulelei, not just because he ranked higher (13th to 16th) on fewer snaps (528 to 620), but because he was more well-rounded, while Lotulelei struggled as a pass rusher and excelled against the run. Short is an overall great player and could be even better in his 2nd year in the league in 2014.

Last year: NA

153. OT Jake Long (St. Louis)

Jake Long graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked offensive tackle last season. However, he tore his ACL week 16 and, even if he is on track for week 1, he might not be 100%, especially not to start the season. It wouldn’t be as concerning if Long didn’t have an injury history. Long, the 1st overall pick in 2008, was arguably the best offensive tackle in the game from 2008-2010, grading out 10th, 2nd, and 3rd respectively on Pro Football Focus in those 3 seasons. However, back problems slowed him in 2011 and 2012, causing him to finish 20th and 46th in those 2 seasons respectively and miss a combined 6 games. Now going into his age 29 season, I expect him to be inferior to last season in 2014.

Last year: 192

154. MLB Brian Cushing (Houston)

Cushing is a dominant middle linebacker when he’s on the field. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 outside linebacker as a rookie in 2009, after going in the first round, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. In 2011, he was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked middle linebacker. However, he missed 4 games with suspension in 2010, which put him behind the 8-ball and caused him to grade out below average. That’s the only season in 5 years in the league in which he graded out below average, but he’s missed 20 games over the past 2 seasons combined with leg injuries, which is a serious concern. He should be ready to go for this season, but he’s very injury prone and, even only going into his age 27 season, there are no guarantees that he can be as good as he once was, even if he stays on the field.

Last year: 100

155. OLB John Abraham (Arizona)

John Abraham was signed by the Cardinals to a 2-year, 4.6 million dollar deal last off-season in late July and he turned out to be one of the biggest steals of the off-season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 13thranked 3-4 outside linebacker last season. Despite his advanced age, this should not have been a surprise as the active all-time leader in sacks (9th all-time) and potential future Hall-of-Famer graded out in the top-4 among 4-3 defensive ends in every season from Pro Football Focus’ origin in 2007 and 2012. This issue is now he’s going into his age 36 season and he got arrested for DUI for the 2nd time in his career this off-season. He might not be facing a suspension, but he missed a lot of off-season practice while in rehab, which won’t help him fight off father time. His abilities could fall off the cliff this season, after he already showed some decline last season (as compared to 2007-2012).

Last year: NA

156. DT Terrance Knighton (Denver)

Knighton broke out in his first year in Denver, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked defensive tackle. He was one of 4 defensive tackles (Randy Starks, Marcell Dareus, Brandon Mebane) to grade out top-13 in pass rushing and run stuffing among defensive tackles. A 6-3 320 pounder with rare movement skills for his size, Knighton followed up his dominant regular season with an even stronger post-season, including a dominant, disruptive performance in the AFC Championship game against New England. He’s still a one year wonder, as he was pretty much just an average starter in the first 4 years of his career in Jacksonville, but he’s still relatively young (going into his age 28 season) so the notion that last year’s breakout season could become the new normal for him is hardly farfetched. He’s an excellent scheme fit in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s system. Del Rio was the head coach who drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2009 NFL Draft with Jacksonville.

Last year: NA

157. DE Justin Smith (San Francisco)

Smith is one of the better interior defensive linemen of his era, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in every season since their origin in 2007, maxing out at #1 among 3-4 defensive ends in 2009, 2010, and 2011. However, he’s an aging player, going into his age 35 season, who has gone from 1st at his position in 2011, to 6th in 2012, to 16th in 2013. He’s also seen his snaps go down from 947 to 840 to 796 last season and he could see closer to 700 this season.

Last year: 43

158. DE Mike DeVito (Kansas City)

Playing just 446 snaps, Mike DeVito was Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2013, with no one playing fewer snaps than him and grading out higher, and he was 4th in pure run grade. In 2012, he was 12th at his position on 554 snaps, including 12th in pure run grade. In 2011, he was 9th at his position on 414 snaps, including 4th in pure run grade. In 2010, he was 8th at his position on 552 snaps, including 2nd in pure run grade. Somehow, only Calais Campbell has also graded out top-12 among 3-4 defensive ends in each of the last 4 seasons and DeVito is doing it despite playing only half the snaps. He’s the best pure base package player in the NFL.

Last year: NA

159. OLB Derrick Morgan (Tennessee)

Derrick Morgan has been the Titans’ best edge rusher over the past 2 seasons, but he could be adversely affected by the Titans’ scheme change to a 3-4. Morgan took until his 3rd year in the league to make an impact because the 2010 1st round pick got hurt as a rookie and then struggled upon his return in his 2nd year in the league, but he’s been Pro Football Focus’ 5th and 11th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2012 and 2013 respectively, showing those first round abilities. He’s especially excelled as a pass rusher, while struggling against the run. Morgan played at around 6-3 275 last season and has slimmed down to 6-3 260 to play 3-4 outside linebacker this season, a position he has very little, if any experience with. Dropping into coverage and rushing from a two-point stance are both very new for him. Between the position change and the weight loss needed for the position change, the Titans are taking a major chance tinkering with a proven player with Morgan, as they are also doing with Casey.

Last year: 74

160. WR Michael Floyd (Arizona)

Michael Floyd broke out in his 2nd year in the league in 2013, as the 13th overall pick in 2012 caught 65 passes for 1041 yards and 5 touchdowns on 107 targets (60.7%) and 569 routes run, an average of 1.83 yards per route run. He was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked wide receiver last season. He’s still a one year wonder as an NFL player, after struggling as a rookie, but rookie receivers tend to struggle anyway and he’s got a ton of talent. He could be even better in his 3rd year in the league.

Last year: NA

161. G Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati)

A 2012 1st round pick, Kevin Zeitler wasn’t as good in 2013 as he was in 2012, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked guard. He graded out 27th in 2013 and missed 4 games. However, going into his 3rd year in the league, he could easily have a bounce back year. Either way, there’s nothing to suggest that he won’t have another solid year at the very least.

Last year: 119

162. DT Henry Melton (Dallas)

The Cowboys signed Henry Melton from Chicago this off-season, reuniting him with former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, but he’s coming off of a torn ACL and a rough start to the 2013 season, in which he struggled mightily on 125 snaps before getting hurt. He could return to form this season, back with Marinelli, and he’s still young, only going into his age 28 season, but ACL injuries are tricky. At his best, he’s a very good defensive tackle and the 6-3 260 pounder is a fantastic fit as a one gap penetrator in a scheme like Marinelli’s. He was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked defensive tackle in 2012 and 14th ranked defensive tackle in 2011 (grading out well above average as a pass rusher and below average as a run stopper in both seasons), after struggling on a combined 353 snaps in his first 2 seasons in the league after being drafted in the 4th round in 2009. A return to form would be much appreciated by the Cowboys, but it’s not a guarantee.

Last year: 86

163. OT Sebastian Vollmer (New England)

Sebastian Vollmer, who only played 516 snaps in 8 games before breaking his leg last season. He was dominant before the injury, on his way to probably the best season of his career in his 5th year in the league. He still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked offensive tackle despite the limited playing time. No offensive tackle played fewer snaps than him and graded out higher. Vollmer has been a very solid player since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2009. He’s been a top-21 offensive tackle on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 5 seasons, doing so in 2011 and 2013 despite playing 6 and 8 games respectively. The issue is he’s never played a full 16 game season and he’s missed 25 games in 5 seasons. The fact that he’s been this consistently good despite his inability to stay healthy is impressive, but he’s very hard to rely on.

Last year: 151

164. WR DeSean Jackson (Washington)

Jackson was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked wide receiver last season, catching 82 passes for 1332 yards and 9 touchdowns, all either career highs or tying career highs. He caught 68.9% of his targets and averaged 2.45 yards per route run, 6th in the NFL. However, the Eagles still cut him because they felt he was largely a product of Chip Kelly’s system, because of his inconsistent past, and because of his salary. The Redskins are paying him less money, 24 million over 3 years, so it’s not a bad value, but expecting him to be the player he was last season is a little short-sighted. From his rookie year in 2008 to 2012, Jackson maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ 34th ranked wide receiver. He’s not historically nearly as efficient as he showed himself to be last season. He could have another strong year, but I doubt he reaches last year’s numbers.

Last year: 194

165. C Evan Dietrich-Smith (Tampa Bay)

Dietrich-Smith took over as the starting center from Jeff Saturday late in the 2012 season and played solid in limited action and then graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked center in 2013 in his first full season as a starter. He’s still just a one year wonder, but the Buccaneers are getting a steal by signing him to a 4-year, 14.25 million dollar deal this off-season.

Last year: NA

166. G Geoff Schwartz (NY Giants)

Schwartz is one of the most underrated players in football and the Giants got a steal getting him for 16.8 million over 4 years with 6.2 million guaranteed. He played well in 2010 with the Panthers, in 11 games at guard and 5 games at tackle. His composite grade would have been 5th among guard and 13th among tackles on Pro Football Focus. However, he missed the entire 2011 season with injury and was relegated to reserve work in Minnesota in 2012, impressing in limited action. In 2013 with the Chiefs, he played 549 snaps at left guard, right guard, and right tackle and his composite grade would have been 7th among guards and 15th among tackles, despite the limited playing time. Now that he’ll be a full-time starter, Schwartz has the ability to emerge as a top-10 or even a top-5 guard in the NFL.

Last year: NA

167. RB Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati)

Bernard only had 170 carries as a rookie, rushing for 695 yards and 5 touchdowns, an average of 4.09 yards per carry, but he also caught 56 passes for 514 yards and another 3 touchdowns. One of the more explosive players in space in the NFL, Bernard graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked running back overall and their 3rd ranked running back in pass catching grade, showing himself to be an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Bernard might not have quite as many catches this season in a run heavier offense, but there will be more opportunity for him to carry the ball in his 2nd year in the league. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is expected to be a non-factor this year, if he even makes the roster, and the Bengals will run more than they did last season.  Bernard is the lead back and could have 300+ touches.

Last year: NA

168. G Orlando Franklin (Denver)

Orlando Franklin will move to left guard from right tackle for the Broncos. That’s a risky move as Franklin was playing so well at right tackle over the past two seasons. The 2011 2nd round pick does have some left guard experience from college and left guard is generally an easier position to play, but Franklin was Pro Football Focus’ 12th and 17th ranked offensive tackle in 2012 and 2013 respectively and there’s no guarantee he’ll be as good inside.

Last year: 165

169. DE Cameron Heyward (Pitsburgh)

Cameron Heyward, a 2011 1st round pick, played 845 snaps last season and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked 3-4 defensive end last season. Last year was his first year as a starter, but he showed well as a reserve on 198 snaps in 2011 and 267 snaps in 2012, before breaking out last year. The talented 5-technique could easily have another strong season next year. The Steelers picked up his 5th year option for 2015.

Last year: NA

170. G Matt Slauson (Chicago)

Matt Slauson was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked guard last season. That was the first year he had done anything like that, but he also graded out above average in each of his first 3 seasons as a starter in the league from 2010-2012 with the Jets. The Bears got a steal signing him on a one-year deal prior to last season and they’re getting a steal again bringing him back on a 4-year, 12.8 million dollar deal this off-season. He hasn’t missed a start in the last 4 seasons and he should have another strong season in 2014.

Last year: NA

171. DE Rob Ninkovich (New England)

A lot of teams believe in rotating their defensive ends. The Patriots apparently don’t as both Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were among the top-2 in snaps played by defensive ends. Ninkovich played 1112 snaps, missing 52 total, and playing an average of 69.6 snaps per snaps. Still, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 4-3 defensive end, including #1 against the run. I don’t know if Ninkovich can improve on the best season of his career as he goes into his age 30 season though. He was Pro Football Focus’ 36th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2012, 10th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2011, and 17th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2010. The versatile front 7 defender has found a home for himself in New England, after being drafted in the 5th round in 2006 and bouncing around from the Saints to the Dolphins back to the Saints from 2006-2008.

Last year: NA

172. QB Tony Romo (Dallas)

Romo takes an unnecessary amount of heat. He’s coming off of a very strong season, completing 63.9% of his passes for an average of 7.16 YPA, 31 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, a QB rating of 96.7. For his career, he completes 64.6% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA, 208 touchdowns, and 101 interceptions. He was Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked quarterback last season, including 7th in passing grade. He’s graded out above average in 6 of 7 seasons since 2007, including 8th in 2007, 16th in 2009, 9th in 2010, 9th in 2011, and 10th in 2012. The concern with Romo isn’t a lack of clutch (whatever that means). It’s that he’s going into his age 34 season coming off of a significant back injury with his YPA declining in every season since 2011 (8.02 YPA, 7.57 YPA, 7.16 YPA) and his completion percentage declining in every season since 2010 (69.5%, 66.3%, 65.6%, 63.9%).

Last year: NA

173. WR Golden Tate (Seattle)

Golden Tate has never had a 1000 yard season, but he’s been stuck on a run heavy team in Seattle, since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010. He caught 45 passes on 65 attempts (69.2%) for 688 yards and 7 touchdowns on 378 routes run (1.80 yards per route run) in 2012. In 2013, he caught 64 passes on 93 attempts (68.8%) for 898 yards and 5 touchdowns on 447 routes run (2.01 yards per route run). Tate will see plenty of single coverage opposite Calvin Johnson and could run 500-600 routes in a pass heavier offense. He won’t see any downgrade in terms of his quarterback’s passing ability going from Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford and he could easily have 1000 receiving yards.

Last year: NA

174. QB Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh)

Roethlisberger’s 2013 season was right in line with his career averages as he completed 64.2% of his passes for an average of 7.30 YPA, 28 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, a QB rating of 92.0. In his career, he completes 63.3% of his passes for an average of 7.85 YPA, 219 touchdowns, and 122 interceptions, a QB rating of 92.6. He was Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked quarterback last season. He takes fewer shots downfield now under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, which has lowered his YPA, but he completes a higher percentage of his passes and has a better touchdown to interception ratio. Going into his age 32 season, he’s still capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl. One thing Roethlisberger did last season that was unusual is play all 16 games, something he had only done once in his career prior. He’s missed 17 games in 10 seasons and will probably miss a game or two with some sort of injury this season, as his playing style leads him to take a lot of hits.

Last year: 87

175. RB Alfred Morris (Washington)

Morris rushed for 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns on 335 carries as a 6th round rookie in 2012, an average of 4.81 YPC, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked running back in terms of rushing grade. In 2013, he rushed for 1275 yards and 7 touchdowns on 276 carries, an average of 4.62 YPC, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked running back in rushing grade. That’s obviously not a bad season, but he wasn’t as good as he was as a rookie. The good news is that he should find more running space with a healthy Robert Griffin functioning as a dual option at quarterback. The bad news is that Jay Gruden is coming in as head coach and wants to open up the passing offense. Morris has caught 20 passes in 2 seasons and has graded out below average as a pass catcher in each of his two seasons in the league.

Last year: 56

Aug 262014
 

This 8-part series counts down the top-200 players in the NFL. 200 might sounds like a lot, but with 53 players on 32 teams’ rosters, that’s 1696 players. Count guys on the practice squad, guys on the PUP or the IR, and guys who are free agents, but still on teams’ radar. That’s probably 2000 players. These guys are the top 10%. Positional value doesn’t matter because if it did, this list would be too quarterback heavy.

176. DT Malik Jackson (Denver)

Jackson doesn’t get a lot of recognition, even on the defending AFC Champions. The 2012 5th round pick didn’t do much as a rookie, playing 120 nondescript snaps. However, he played 601 snaps and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 4-3 defensive tackle in 2013. He’s still a one year wonder, but he’s an obvious asset with the versatility play defensive end in base packages and defensive tackle in sub packages. The 6-5 284 pounder played a fair amount of defensive end in college at Tennessee and will continue being a significant asset on the defensive line for the Broncos, even if he isn’t “technically” a starter.

Last year: NR

177. WR Percy Harvin (Seattle)

The Seahawks clearly had big plans for Percy Harvin when they traded a 1st and 3rd round pick for him last off-season and gave him a 6-year, 67 million dollar deal. Those plans were derailed when Harvin hurt his hip and missed all but 20 regular season snaps. He made an impact in the post-season, but Harvin’s injury history is impossible to ignore. He’s missed 25 games in 5 seasons, including 22 games over the past 2 seasons. When on the field, he’s dynamic, averaging 2.45 yards per route run in his first 4 seasons in the league in Minnesota despite less than stellar quarterback play. That’s impressive even if he was being targeted on 28.75% of route run. He also adds value as a return man (115 kickoff returns for 3241 yards and 5 touchdowns) and a ball carrier (683 yards and 4 touchdowns on 107 carries). He just needs to stay healthy.

Last year: NR

178. TE Jordan Cameron (Cleveland)

Jordan Cameron broke out in his 3rd year in the league in 2013, after being drafted in the 4th round in 2011, catching 80 passes for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns. He played on one of the pass heaviest teams in the league, running 622 routes, giving him an average of 1.47 yards per route run. That’s pretty middle of the pack, but considering what he had to work with at quarterback, it’s impressive. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 15th ranked tight end in pass catching grade, though he struggled mightily as a run blocker, grading out 11th worst at his position in that aspect.

Last year: NR

179. C Dominic Raiola (Detroit)

Raiola is going into his age 36 season, and he looked done as recently as 2010-2011, when he graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in both seasons, including 5th worst among centers in 2010. However, he’s put together back-to-back strong seasons over the past two seasons, grading out 13th and 2nd among centers in 2012 and 2013 respectively. At his age, he doesn’t have much time left, but he could easily have another strong season left in the tank.

Last year: NR

180. DT Damon Harrison (NY Jets)

The man affectionately known as Snacks, Damon Harrison is a massive 6-4 350 pounder. The 2012 undrafted free agent cut down on the snacks a little bit last season and moved to feasting on offensive linemen and running backs. He was easily Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked defensive tackle in terms of run stopping grade and only JJ Watt had a higher run stopping grade at any position. He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, with 1 sack and 9 hurries on 226 pass rush snaps, a 4.4% rate, grading out below average, but it didn’t matter that much. He was still Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked defensive tackle last season on 510 snaps and no one played fewer snaps and graded out higher. There might not be a better two-down player in the NFL. He’s still a one year wonder, playing just 22 snaps as an undrafted rookie in 2012, and his history of weight problems is concerning, but he could easily have another strong year against the run.

Last year: NR

181. DT Star Lotulelei (Carolina)

Star Lotulelei had a fantastic rookie year after the Panthers drafted him 14th overall in 2013, earning some Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration. He was Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked defensive tackle. Lotulelei wasn’t that well-rounded, struggling as a pass rusher and excelling against the run. The 6-2 315 pounder might just be a pure two-down player (though an excellent one, grading out 5th overall against the run). That’s a concern because run stoppers are less valuable than pass rushers in the NFL. That being said, he was a first round pick just last year so he could easily become at least a decent pass rusher and allow himself to stay on the field in every situation. He’s not done developing, only turning 25 in December.

Last year: NR

182. DE Jason Pierre-Paul (NY Giants)

JPP didn’t miss that many games last season, missing 5, but he was a shell of his normal self with back and shoulder problems, grading out just about average on 583 snaps, grading out below average as a pass rusher and above average as a run stopper. Jason Pierre-Paul has 9 sacks over the past 2 seasons combined, after 16 sacks in 2011, but he’s only had one down year. In 2012, he had only 7 sacks, but he also had 4 hits and 45 hurries, giving him a solid 10.7% pass rush rate on 523 pass rush snaps. He was even better against the run and overall, grading out 3rd overall on Pro Football Focus among 4-3 defensive ends. That’s actually better than his 2011 breakout year, when he graded out 6th at his position. He wasn’t as good against the run and he only had a 9.7% pass rush rate, with 16 sacks, 14 hits, and 26 hurries on 580 pass rush snaps. JPP is expected to be 100% this season and, only going into his age 25 season, he has a very good chance to bounce back and be a top defensive end again.

Last year: 44

183. DE Charles Johnson (Carolina)

Charles Johnson signed a gargantuan 6-year, 76 million dollar deal with the Panthers following a breakout season in 2010 in which he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 defensive end. That was his first season as a starter, so the Panthers were paying for a one-year wonder and it hasn’t quite paid off. That isn’t to say he’s been bad, as he’s been a strong pass rusher, grading out 18th, 2nd, and 11th in pure pass rushing grade in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. However, he’s graded out below average as a run stopper in all 3 seasons and has overall not proven himself to be the player he was in 2010.

Last year: 69

184. G TJ Lang (Green Bay)

TJ Lang had the best season of his career in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 15th ranked guard. He’s inconsistent though. A 3-year starter with the versatility to play any position other than center if needed (but he’s best at guard), Lang graded out below average in 2012, but ranked 22nd in 2011. Last season was his first full year at right guard and that might just be the best spot for him, so he could easily have another strong year, but his history of inconsistency is worth mentioning.

Last year: NR

185. OT Anthony Collins (Tampa Bay)

Many fans might not have heard of Anthony Collins, but the NFL sure knows who he is. He’s been the Bengals’ swing tackle for years and he’s always shown well when given the chance, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in limited action in every season since 2009. In 2013, he was given his biggest chance yet, with Andrew Whitworth moving to left guard in place of the injured Clint Boling and Anthony Collins taking over at left tackle. Collins played a career high 592 snaps and didn’t allow a sack or quarterback hit all season, finishing as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked offensive tackle despite the limited action. He got a well-deserved 5-year, 30 million dollar deal from the Buccaneers this off-season to be their left tackle.

Last year: NR

186. WR Kendall Wright (Tennessee)

2012 1st round pick Kendall Wright broke out in his 2nd year in the league in 2013. Wright only averaged 11.5 yards per reception and only scored twice and in his career he only averages 10.8 yards per reception and only has 6 touchdowns, but he gobbles up underneath targets and dominates that part of the field. Wright caught 94 passes on 134 targets (70.1%) and totaled 1079 yards on 539 routes run, an average of 2.00 yards per route run, 21st among eligible wide receivers. He also had more than half of his yardage after the catch, as he totaled 583 yards after the catch and averaged 6.2 yards per catch after the catch. That was 10th at his position among eligible wide receivers. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked wide receiver and he could easily be better in his 3rd year in the league, a common breakout year for wide receivers. He can become a more complete receiver by catching more passes downfield.

Last year: NR

187. OT Zach Strief (New Orleans)

A late bloomer, Zach Strief has only been a starter for 3 years in his career and he’s already going into his age 31 season. He’s also missed 10 games in 3 seasons and struggled through injury in 12 games in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 52nd ranked offensive tackle out of 80 eligible. He’s also only a pure right tackle, which isn’t quite as valuable as someone who can play on the blindside. However, he’s been dominant in his other two seasons as a starter, grading out as Pro Football Focus 12th ranked offensive tackle (6th ranked right tackle) in 2011 and 9th ranked offensive tackle (1st ranked right tackle in 2013).

Last year: NR

188. G Justin Blalock (Atlanta)

Blalock was the only Falcons’ offensive lineman last season to make more than 10 starts and grade out above average, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked guard. This is nothing new for him as he’s made every start but 2 since his rookie year in 2007, including 100 straight dating back to 2007, and he’s graded out above average in each of his last 4 seasons, maxing out at 12th among guards in 2010.

Last year: NR

189. WR Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona)

Fitzgerald has gone under 1000 yards receiving in each of the last 2 seasons. His 71/798/4 line in 2012 was understandable because he had supremely terrible quarterback play, but even with better quarterback play, he only caught 82 passes for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013. That’s obviously still very solid, but this is the guy who averaged 94 catches for 1309 yards and 10 touchdowns per 16 games from 2005-2011, even though he never really had great quarterback play, except for those couple Warner years. Now in his 30s, going into his age 31 season, he’s simply not the same player any more. He’s still really good, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked wide receiver last season (though just 25th in pass catching grade), catching 63.6% of his passes for an average of 1.59 yards per route run, but he falls down this list.

Last year: 47

190. S Donte Whitner (Cleveland)

He is an inconsistent player who graded out slightly below average on Pro Football Focus in each season from 2007-2010 in Buffalo and who allowed 12 touchdowns in regular season and post-season combined in 2012 on a 49ers team that allowed just 26 total passing touchdowns in the regular season and post-season combined. However, he graded out 8th among safeties in 2011 and 6th among safeties in 2013. He seemed to fix his coverage problems last season, grading out 5th in that aspect, and we’ll see if that continues.

Last year: NR

191. MLB Brandon Spikes (Buffalo)

Brandon Spikes was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked middle linebacker last season, but that’s a little misleading. That was fueled solely by his run play as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ first ranked middle linebacker in terms of run grade by a mile, but he ranked 38th out of 55 middle linebackers in terms of coverage grade. He also played only 694 snaps as a part-time two-down player. He’s a pure base package player in a league that’s devaluing pure base package players, though he’s an excellent one at that. This isn’t a new thing for him. In 2012, he graded out 9th among middle linebackers, including 1st as a run stopper, playing just 742 snaps. In 2011, he graded out 18th among middle linebackers, 19th in run grade, and played 364 snaps. In 2010, he graded out 9th among middle linebackers, 4th in run grade, and played 356 snaps. He also has a history of injury and issues with the coaching staff. All this being said, he is phenomenal at what he does.

Last year: NR

192. CB Brandon Boykin (Philadelphia)

Brandon Boykin is a 5-9 182 pounder who can only play the slot. However, the 2012 4th round pick was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked cornerback last season on 635 snaps, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out higher. He was even better in pure coverage grade, grading out 2nd in that aspect. He also graded out above average on 526 snaps as a rookie. He’s played a combined 107 snaps not on the slot over the past 2 seasons combined and he’ll have to remain purely a slot cornerback this season, but he’s the best pure slot cornerback in the NFL.

Last year: NR

193. WR Eric Decker (NY Jets)

Eric Decker is going to get a massive downgrade at the quarterback position going from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith. The last time he played with a quarterback other than Peyton Manning, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 82nd ranked wide receiver out of 115 eligible and averaged just 1.28 yards per route run, 65th out of 95 eligible. That was in 2011 with the combination of Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton, which is comparable to what Decker will be dealing with in New York. That being said, it’s unfair to suggest that he’s not an improved player since 2011. While much of his increased production since then was due to the arrival of Peyton Manning, he’s still an improved player. He’s averaged 1.80 and 2.03 yards per route run over the past 2 seasons respectively, grading out 36th and 11th in those two seasons respectively among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus, peaking in his contract year. The 2010 3rd round pick not a true coverage changing #1 receiver, he’s not overly explosive, and he drops too many passes (29 drops compared to 216 catches over the past 3 seasons). However, he is going to be easily the Jets’ best wide receiver this season and he’s incredibly reliable around the goal line (32 touchdowns in the last 3 seasons, including 8 even in 2011).

Last year: 186

194. WR Anquan Boldin (San Francisco)

The 49ers’ leading receiver last season was Anquan Boldin, who caught 85 passes for 1179 yards and 7 touchdowns on 123 targets (69.1%) and 462 routes run, an average of 2.55 yards per route run. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked wide receiver overall last season. The issue is he’s going into his age 34 season. There’s still a good chance he doesn’t show serious decline this season, in spite of that. He didn’t show any decline last season. In fact, he had one of the best seasons of his career, going above 1000 yards for the first time since 2009. He also doesn’t have a significant injury history and has only missed 4 games over the past 5 seasons combined. On top of that, he’s never been someone reliant on his athleticism, dominating with his ability to make contested catches first and foremost, and that’s not something that’s going to go away with age as fast as athleticism might. He won’t be as good as last season though.

Last year: NR

195. C Travis Frederick (Dallas)

Frederick was a surprise pick as the 31st overall pick in 2013, but he impressed as a rookie, grading out 7th at his position. He struggled in pass protection, grading out 32nd out of 35 eligible in that aspect, which is unfortunate considering pass protection is more important than run blocking, but he was Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked run blocking center and he could be even better in his 2nd year in the league in 2014.

Last year: NR

196. TE Marcedes Lewis (Jacksonville)

Lewis’ raw pass catching totals don’t seem that good (206 catches for 2577 yards and 20 touchdowns since 2009 in 73 games), but he’s averaged 1.58 yards per route run since 2009, including 1.37 yards per route run last season. He’s limited by the way the Jaguars utilize his skill set limits his pass catching production (in addition to poor quarterback play. Since 2009, he has 1 pass block snap for every 3.53 routes he runs, which means he pass blocks more often than almost any tight end. The Jaguars also very rarely line him up off the line. Since 2009, only 31.7% of his routes run have come on the slot, which means he lines up off line as infrequently as almost any tight end in the game. He’s graded out above average every season since 2009 and he was a top-10 tight end in every season from 2009-2012, maxing out at #2 overall in 2010. Much of that is run blocking grade for the punishing 6-6 261 pounder, but he graded out above average as a pass catcher in 3 of those 4 seasons. He didn’t do so last season and he only graded out slightly above average overall and also missed 5 games with injury. That’s a concern as he heads into his age 30 season. However, he should remain an asset for them as long as he stays on the field and the 2006 1st round pick only missed a combined 3 games from 2006-2012.

Last year: NR

197. WR Randall Cobb (Green Bay)

A 2011 2nd round pick, Cobb caught 25 passes on 31 targets (80.6%) for 375 yards and a touchdown on 174 routes run as a rookie, an average of 2.16 yards per route run. He then had a breakout year in 2012, catching 80 passes on 102 targets (78.4%) for 954 yards and 8 touchdowns on 422 routes run, an average of 2.26 yards per route run. He was Pro Football Focus’ #11 ranked wide receiver that season. He looked on his way to a similar season in 2013, but injuries derailed that, limiting him to 6 games. He caught 31 passes on 40 targets (77.5%) for 433 yards and 4 touchdowns on 209 routes run, an average of 2.07 yards per route run. Going into his contract year this year, without much of an injury history, he should have another year similar to 2012, but he is still a one year wonder.

Last year: 141

198. RB DeMarco Murray (Dallas)

DeMarco Murray had the best season of his career in 2013, rushing for 1121 yards and 9 touchdowns on 217 attempts, an average of 5.17 YPC. He also added 53 catches for 350 yards and a touchdown through the air. He was Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked running back overall and had the 7th highest elusive rating last season with 53 broken tackles on 270 touches and 2.71 yards per carry after contact. I’m skeptical whether or not he can repeat that kind of season, given his injury history. He’s been banged up dating back to college, even missing 2 games last season, and missing a combined 11 games in 3 seasons in the league. He’s never played more than 14 games in a season and the 270 touches he had last season blew his previous career high of 196 out of the water.

Last year: NR

199. OT Anthony Castonzo (Indianapolis)

Anthony Castonzo essentially played every snap at left tackle last season, 1088 out of 1093 possible. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 27th ranked offensive tackle, well above average.He was a 2011 1st round pick and is now going into his 4th year in the league. The Colts picked up his 5th year option for 2015 this off-season. He’s graded out above average in all 3 years he’s been in the league, improved every year, and has missed a combined 5 snaps over the past 2 seasons combined.

Last year: NR

200. TE Jordan Reed (Washington)

Reed, a 3rd round rookie last season, missed 7 games with concussions, but still graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked tight end last season despite playing just 384 snaps. He was very well-rounded too, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked pass catching tight end and 13th ranked run blocking tight end. Reed caught 45 passes on 60 attempts (75.0%) for 499 yards and 4 touchdowns on 228 routes run, an average of 2.19 yards per route run, 3rd in the NFL. If he stays healthy, he could have a breakout year in 2014.

Last year: NR

Aug 242014
 

Download here: fantasy-football-2014

Instructions:

1. Enable editing on the excel sheet.

2. Input your league scoring system into the scoring settings tab (the first tab). This tab is defaulted to standard ESPN scoring settings.

3. If using non-standard scoring, go to the QB, RB, WR, and TE tabs and sort the QB and RB tabs by column H, the WR tab by column G and the TE tab by column F. Then go to the rankings tab and sort the entire thing by column C. These are your customized rankings.

4. If you disagree with any of my statistical projections on the QB, RB, WR, or TE tab, you can change them and then re-sort the rankings tab to get new rankings.

5. Unfortunately, this is not customizable for leagues with non-standard roster types (two QB, two TE, etc.). This may be coming next season.

6. No defenses or kickers are ranked. Always draft a defense in the 2nd to last round and play the matchups weekly (Philadelphia is a good draft pick because they are playing Jacksonville week 1). As for kickers, never draft one before the final round.

Aug 222014
 

QB Sam Bradford (St. Louis)

Bradford had shown signs of becoming the long-term answer at quarterback for the Rams last season. Bradford completed 60.7% of his passes for an average of 6.44 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions in 2013. That TD:INT ratio looks pretty good, but I put more stock in completion percentages and YPAs because they show you what happens on a greater percentage of snaps. Even if Bradford has a breakout season, he won’t throw an interception on just 1.5% of throws like he did last season.

Bradford set a career high in completion percentage and had the 2nd best YPA of his career, but neither 60.7% nor 6.44 YPA is really that impressive. On top of that, Bradford went down with a torn ACL after 7 games and missed the rest of the season. We’ve seen better quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Robert Griffin, Carson Palmer) all struggle in their first season back from that type of injury so it doesn’t really bode well for his chances. He’s now has a torn ACL, a serious knee injury, and a serious shoulder injury on his resume in the last 5 seasons, dating back to his final season at Oklahoma.

3500 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 80 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns (208 pts standard)

RB Zac Stacy (St. Louis)

Zac Stacy only averaged 3.89 yards per carry (973 yards and 7 touchdowns on 250 carries) last season, including just 3.59 yards per carry in the 2nd half of the season (625 yards and 7 touchdowns on 174 carries). Stacy rushed for 2.45 yards per carry after contact, as the 5-8 216 pounder ran with great power and strength, but he didn’t average a high YPC overall because he doesn’t have great burst or ability to turn into a 2nd gear. There’s a reason he fell to the 5th round in the 2013 NFL Draft. The Rams drafted Tre Mason in the 3rd round and he’ll be his primary backup. Mason could cut into Stacy’s carries. Stacy carried the ball 249 times in his 12 starts (an average of 20.75 carries per game, 332 carries over 16 games). He’ll be lucky if he gets to 280 carries this season. There are better RB2s.

260 carries for 1070 yards, 8 total touchdowns, 28 catches for 170 yards (172 pts standard)

WR Tavon Austin (St. Louis)

The 8th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Tavon Austin only caught 40 passes for 415 yards and 4 touchdowns on 62 attempts (61.5%) on 305 routes run, an average of 1.37 yards per route run as a rookie. He contributed as a runner (9 carries for 151 yards and a touchdown) and a return man (18 kickoff returns for 398 yards and 33 punt returns for 280 yards and a touchdown), but not as a pass catcher. That’s led to a lot of people calling him a bust, but I think that’s really premature.

Rookie wide receivers rarely do anything. Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and they had 58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively as rookies. Austin could be a lot better in his 2nd year in the league. He finished the season out well, catching 9 passes for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns in his final 4 games. That’s 844 yards and 8 scores over a 16-game season. There’s upside with him in the late rounds.

60 catches for 740 yards and 5 touchdowns, 100 rushing yards (114 pts standard)

WR Kenny Britt (St. Louis)

Kenny Britt is one of the real fantasy wild cards this season. The 2009 1st round pick looked on his way to a promising career in 2010 and 2011. After averaging 1.86 yards per route run as a rookie in 2009, Britt averaged an absurd 3.07 yards per route run in 2010 and 2011, catching a combined 59 passes for 1064 yards and 12 touchdowns on a combined 347 routes run. However, a torn ACL suffered 3 games into 2011 derailed his career big-time. As good as he was in 2010 and 2011, he only played a combined 15 games thanks to multiple injuries, including that torn ACL. He averaged just 1.49 yards per route run in 2012.

In 2013, his final year in Tennessee, he was a train wreck. He only caught a third of his 33 targets, with 11 catches for 96 yards and he dropped 7 passes. He averaged just 0.48 yards per route run on 201 routes run. He was the definition of awful and also got into it with his coaches, which is why he had to settle for a minimum deal in free agency. He’s reportedly dominating off-season practices though, which is why he’s listed as a starter. I’m still skeptical, but he’s only going into his age 26 season, we know he has insane natural talent, and he has every reason to give 110%.

40 catches for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns (84 pts standard)

TE Jared Cook (St. Louis)

The Rams’ leading receiver in 2013 was tight end Jared Cook, who caught 51 passes for 671 yards and 5 touchdowns. Still, he didn’t really live up to the insane 5-year, 35.11 million dollar deal he got last off-season. That deal was undeserved as he’s not much of a run blocker and he’s maxed out at 49 catches for 759 yards and 3 touchdowns. My guess is either he or Austin leads this team in receiving yards, but Austin has more upside. Cook is a low end TE1 at best.

54 catches for 700 yards and 5 touchdowns (100 pts standard)

Aug 222014
 

QB Carson Palmer (Arizona)

Palmer completed 63.3% of his passes last season for an average of 7.47 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, a solid QB rating of 83.9. However, he’s going into his age 35 season and could hit a wall in terms of his abilities at any time at his age. The Cardinals drafted Logan Thomas in the 4th round for that reason. He’s a weak QB2.

4000 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, 21 interceptions, 50 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns (207 pts standard)

RB Andre Ellington (Arizona)

6th round rookie Andre Ellington rushed for 652 yards and 3 touchdowns on 118 carries in 2013, an average of 5.52 yards per carry. He also added 39 catches for 371 yards and a touchdown through the air. However, he didn’t see that many touches, even though lead back Rashard Mendenhall averaged just 3.17 yards per carry. Mendenhall is now gone so Ellington will become the lead back. The Cardinals seem to have finally realized what they have with him as they’ve been talking him up as a feature back all off-season.

Ellington is only 5-9 199 and the Cardinals were concerned about his ability to carry a load, which could have some merits, but he was definitely deserving of a bigger role. The 2013 6th round pick probably won’t average 5.52 yards per carry again this season, in a bigger role, but he should still average a high YPC and he could approach 300 touches as a three down back. The Cardinals have no real competition for him with only Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor behind him on the depth chart.

240 carries for 1130 yards, 7 total touchdowns, 50 catches for 450 yards (200 pts standard)

WR Michael Floyd (Arizona)

Floyd broke out in his 2nd year in the league in 2013, as the 13th overall pick in 2012 caught 65 passes for 1041 yards and 5 touchdowns on 107 targets (60.7%) and 569 routes run, an average of 1.83 yards per route run. He’s still a one year wonder as an NFL player, after struggling as a rookie, but rookie receivers tend to struggle anyway and he’s got a ton of talent. He could be even better in his 3rd year in the league.

68 catches for 1080 yards and 8 touchdowns (156 pts standard)

WR Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona)

While Floyd’s career is on the up, Larry Fitzgerald’s career is on the way down, as he heads into his age 31 season. Fitzgerald has gone under 1000 yards receiving in each of the last 2 seasons. His 71/798/4 line in 2012 was understandable because he had supremely terrible quarterback play, but even with better quarterback play, he only caught 82 passes for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013. That’s obviously still very solid, but this is the guy who averaged 94 catches for 1309 yards and 10 touchdowns per 16 games from 2005-2011, even though he never really had great quarterback play, except for those couple Warner years. Now in his 30s, he’s simply not the same player any more.

75 catches for 900 yards and 7 touchdowns (132 pts standard)

Aug 222014
 

QB Russell Wilson (Seattle)

Russell Wilson, a 2012 3rd round pick, has proven to be one of the greatest draft steals in NFL history. Obviously he got a lot of help from his supporting cast en route to winning the Super Bowl in his 2nd season in the league, but he did a lot of it on his own, completing 63.6% of his passes for an average of 8.09 YPA, 52 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions in 2 seasons in the league (100.6 QB rating). He’s also added 1028 yards and 5 touchdowns rushing on 190 carries (5.41 YPC) in 2 seasons. He’s locked in as a QB1 again.

3200 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 500 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns (282 pts standard)

RB Marshawn Lynch (Seattle)

Lynch, a former first round pick run out of Buffalo, has completely turned around his career over the past 3 seasons in Seattle, rushing for 4051 yards and 35 touchdowns on 901 carries (4.50 yards per carry) and adding 87 catches for 724 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. However, there’s some reason for concern. Lynch is going into his age 28 season with 1753 career carries. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. And after players have their drop off, they average just 169 carries per season at 3.52 yards per carry and just 5 touchdowns, so they’re really a non-factor as a back. Lynch is 52nd all-time with 7389 rushing yards.

He’s not at the level where the Seahawks should be worried that his abilities completely fall off a cliff, but age is starting to become a factor. He could show some decline this season, especially since he’s had 988 regular season touches over the past 3 regular seasons combined. Last season, he had 403 touches including post-season, most in the NFL. That’s especially concerning considering his violent running style. On top of that, Lynch missed a significant amount of off-season practices with a holdout, which won’t help him.

270 carries for 1160 yards, 10 total touchdowns, 30 catches for 220 yards (198 pts standard)

RB Christine Michael (Seattle)

The good news is the Seahawks have Christine Michael waiting in the wings behind him. The 2013 2nd round pick didn’t do much as a rookie, with 18 carries for 79 yards and just 26 snaps played, but he’s drawn rave reviews this off-season going into his 2nd year in the league. He’ll siphon some carries off from Lynch as they try to keep the veteran fresh and take over as the lead back in 2015 and beyond. Given the success in running backs drafted outside of the first round over the past few years, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he turned into an above average starter long-term. He’s worth a late round pick in re-draft leagues, especially for Lynch owners, and he’s definitely worth your attention in dynasty and keeper leagues.

100 carries for 460 yards, 3 total touchdowns, 10 catches for 90 yards (73 pts standard)

WR Percy Harvin (Seattle)

The Seahawks acquired Percy Harvin from the Vikings for a 1st and 3rd round pick last off-season, but he only played 20 snaps thanks to injury. Harvin was dominant in Minnesota, averaging 2.45 yards per route run in his first 4 seasons in the league despite less than stellar quarterback play. He also adds value as a ball carrier (683 yards and 4 touchdowns on 107 carries).

However, he’s missed 25 games in 5 seasons, including 22 games over the past 2 seasons. If he’s on the field, he should average over 2 yards per route run (while adding value as a runner and a return man), even if he doesn’t get targeted as frequently as he did in Minnesota (targeted on 28.75% of routes run), but his statistical production will be limited by how run heavy the offense is and injuries are still an obvious concern. He’s never had more than 1000 yards or 390 routes run in a season and I don’t expect either of those things to change this season.

60 catches for 780 yards and 6 touchdowns, 150 rushing yards (129 pts standard)

WR Doug Baldwin (Seattle)

Doug Baldwin hasn’t been incredibly productive in his career thus far, as the 2011 undrafted free agent has posted lines of 51/788/4 and 50/778/5 in 2011 and 2013 respectively, with a 29/366/3 line in 2012 in between. However, much of that is because of much of a run heavy team the Seahawks are. He averaged 1.83 yards per route run (on 425 routes run) in 2013 and he’s averaged 1.91 yards per route run in his career. He’s only a low upside late round pick though, even with Golden Tate and Sidney Rice gone. He’s a better real football player than fantasy football player.

52 catches for 750 yards and 5 touchdowns (105 pts standard)

Aug 222014
 

QB Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco)

In the 8 games Kaepernick played with Michael Crabtree last season, Kaepernick completed 59.2% of his passes for an average of 7.78 YPA, 10 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions in those 8 games, numbers more reminiscent of 2012. That’s as opposed to 56.7% completion, 7.41 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in their other 11 games. Now he has a full season of Michael Crabtree healthy, to go with Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and Steve Johnson. The 49ers’ receivers are now more talented than their running backs and with NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Glenn Dorsey all expected to miss significant time with injury on defense, their defense won’t be as good, which will force them to pass more often. There’s a lot of potential here.

3750 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 400 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns (302 pts standard)

RB Frank Gore (San Francisco)

Frank Gore is going into his age 31 season with 2187 career touches. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000-yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. And after players have their drop off, they average just 169 carries per season at 3.52 yards per carry and just 5 touchdowns, so they’re really a non-factor as a back. Gore is “only” 29th all-time with 9,967 rushing yards and he could easily see his abilities completely fall off of a cliff this season or suffer some sort of significant injury.

He already showed signs of decline last season, rushing for 1128 yards and 9 touchdowns on 276 carries, an average of just 4.09 yards per carry. That’s the worst YPC season of his career. He was even worse in the 2nd half of the season, averaging 3.61 yards per carry on 164 carries in his final 10 games, going over 4 yards per carry in just 3 games and totaling 3 touchdowns. He also doesn’t do much as a pass catcher anymore, with 61 catches for 489 yards and a touchdown over the past 3 seasons combined.

210 carries for 840 yards, 7 total touchdowns, 15 catches for 100 yards (136 pts standard)

RB Carlos Hyde (San Francisco)

Carlos Hyde, a 2nd round rookie, will be Gore’s primary backup and has a good chance of being their lead back long-term. He could end up having a significant role as a rookie if Gore gets hurt or declines significantly this season. That’s certainly not unlikely, so Hyde is worth a late round flier, especially for owners who ended up with Gore.

120 carries for 520 yards, 5 total touchdowns, 18 catches for 140 yards (96 pts standard)

WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco)

Down the stretch in 2012, Crabtree looked on his way to finally becoming the top receiver the 49ers envisioned he’d become when they drafted him 10th overall in 2009. After Kaepernick took over as the starter full time in week 11, Crabtree caught 61 passes for 880 yards and 8 touchdowns in 10 games, including playoffs. That’s 98 catches for 1408 yards and 13 touchdowns over 16 games. The issue is he tore his Achilles in May of 2013, which caused him to miss 11 games in 2013 and limited him upon his return.

Last season, he caught 34 passes for 487 yards and a touchdown in 8 games (including playoffs), 68 passes for 974 yards and 2 touchdowns over 16 games, which is nowhere near as good as he was down the stretch in 2012, but incredibly impressive considering he was just 6-8 months removed from that injury. Assuming he’s healthy, and he should be as he’ll be 16+ months removed from his injury, Crabtree could surpass his career best line of 85/1105/9 from 2012, when he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked wide receiver, catching 72.0% of targets for an average of 2.55 yards per route run. The 49ers will pass more often this season with Frank Gore aging and their defense taking big hits this off-season and Crabtree should be Kaepernick’s #1 guy.

84 catches for 1160 yards and 9 touchdowns (170 pts standard)

WR Anquan Boldin (San Francisco)

The 49ers’ leading receiver last season in Crabtree’s absence was Anquan Boldin, who caught 85 passes for 1179 yards and 7 touchdowns on 123 targets (69.1%) and 462 routes run, an average of 2.55 yards per route run. Unlike Davis, he didn’t have his production affected by Crabtree’s return. In fact, he was even more productive with Crabtree in the lineup, as he caught 49 passes for 682 yards and 3 touchdowns in the 8 games that Crabtree played, as opposed to 52 passes for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns in the other 11 games.

The issue is he’s going into his age 34 season. That being said, he didn’t show any decline last season. In fact, he had one of the best seasons of his career, going above 1000 yards for the first time since 2009. He also doesn’t have a significant injury history and has only missed 4 games over the past 5 seasons combined. On top of that, he’s never been someone reliant on his athleticism, dominating with his ability to make contested catches first and foremost, and that’s not something that’s going to go away with age as fast as athleticism might. He won’t be as good as last season though. He could also see fewer targets just because Crabtree is now 100%. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he finished with a receiving yards total between 837 and 921, like he did in every season from 2010-2012.

68 catches for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns (133 pts standard)

TE Vernon Davis (San Francisco)

One player that Crabtree’s return will hurt is tight end Vernon Davis. When Crabtree is in the lineup, Kaepernick tends to ignore Vernon Davis. In 18 games with Crabtree in the lineup and Kaepernick under center, including playoffs, Davis has 43 catches for 679 yards and 8 touchdowns and he has 38 catches for 623 yards and 9 touchdowns in the other 10 games he’s played with Kaepernick under center. The 49ers haven’t passed enough for both Crabtree and Davis to put up big numbers. The good news is the 49ers might open it up more this season, with their defense taking big hits this off-season and their pass catchers now being better than their running backs, which would get Davis more targets. Don’t expect huge things from him though.

48 catches for 700 yards and 7 touchdowns (112 pts standard)

Aug 222014
 

RB Adrian Peterson (Minnesota)

Peterson didn’t repeat the 2000 rushing yard season he had in 2012, but he still impressed, rushing for 1266 yards and 10 touchdowns on 279 carries, an average of 4.54 YPC. In his career, he’s rushed for 10,115 yards (already 27th all-time) and 86 touchdowns on 2033 carries, an average of 4.98 YPC. There is minor concern with his age as he goes into his age 29 season with 2033 career carries and he’s not the pass catcher that either Jamaal Charles or LeSean McCoy is, but he’s locked in as a top-3 running back.

310 carries for 1460 yards and 12 touchdowns, 32 catches for 250 yards (243 pts standard)

WR Greg Jennings (Minnesota)

Jennings was dominant in Green Bay from 2007-2011, averaging 2.12 yards per route run over that stretch (5532 yards on 2604 routes). However, he missed 3 games with injury in 2011 and then another 8 in 2012 and that seemed to sap his abilities. He averaged just 1.28 yards per route run in 2012 and, though he was healthier last year, he averaged just 1.62 yards per route run. Going into his age 31 season, there isn’t a lot of upside here.

61 catches for 760 yards and 4 touchdowns (100 pts standard)

WR Cordarelle Patterson (Minnesota)

The 29th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Patterson flashed his incredible athleticism, rushing for 158 yards and 3 touchdowns on 12 carries and returning 43 kickoffs for 1393 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.4 yards per catch after the catch and broke 10 tackles on 45 catches, but he showed serious issues with route running, catching just 10 passes farther than 10 yards downfield and just 3 passes farther than 20 yards downfield. He was limited primarily to short routes and screens and also dropped 5 passes. He caught 45 passes on 72 targets (62.5%) for 469 yards and 4 touchdowns on 292 routes run (1.61 yards per route run). He’s expected to have a bigger role in his 2nd year in the league and he has the natural ability to have a breakout year, but he’s only going into his age 23 season so there should be no surprises if he continues to be raw.

56 catches for 720 yards and 5 touchdowns, 120 rushing yards (114 pts standard)

TE Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota)

Kyle Rudolph only averaged 1.11 yards per route run in his first 2 seasons in the league, as the big bodied tight end was used primarily as a blocker and ran just 30.1% of his routes off of the line of scrimmage.  In 2013, he looked on his way to a much better receiving year, as he averaged 1.34 yards per route run, running about 40.3% of his routes from off the line. Unfortunately, he went down for the season with a foot injury after 8 games. However, now he returns for his contract year and tight end guru Norv Turner is coming in. Rudolph has slimmed down to 6-6 260 from 275 and will be used more as a pass catcher and line up all over the formation in passing situations, much like Turner did with Antonio Gates in San Diego and Jordan Cameron in Cleveland. It wouldn’t be ridiculous to expect him to average 1.50 yards per route run (especially with better quarterback play) and for him to be 2nd on the team in receiving.

58 catches for 720 yards and 6 touchdowns (108 pts standard)

Aug 222014
 

QB Jay Cutler (Chicago)

Last season, in his first season under Marc Trestman, Jay Cutler set a career high in QB rating, completing 63.1% of his passes for an average of 7.38 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, a QB rating of 89.2, significantly better than his career average of 84.6. He was even better before suffering an ankle injury week 7, completing 65.9% of his passes for an average of 7.51 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. The issue is he hasn’t played a full season in 2009. If I had to guess, Cutler will have worse numbers than the combined 4450 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions Bear quarterbacks (Cutler and Josh McCown) threw last season.

4100 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 180 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown (280 pts standard)

RB Matt Forte (Chicago)

Last season Forte was the definition of a three-down back, leading the position in snaps played with 940, 50 snaps more than any other running back in the NFL. It’s rare to find a running back who is well-rounded enough to stay on the field for every passing down and he was a big part of their passing game last season. He rushed for 1339 yards and 9 touchdowns on 289 carries, 4.63 YPC. He also caught 74 passes for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns. If he doesn’t get injured or decline, he should have another strong season, but there’s a good chance he does get injured or decline. He’s going into his age 29 season with 1892 career touches in 6 seasons so it’s starting to become a concern.

270 carries for 1190 yards, 10 total touchdowns, 65 catches for 540 yards (233 pts standard)

WR Brandon Marshall (Chicago)

Marshall has had some issues with teammates and off-the-field, but on-the-field, he’s been as steady as they come, with 7 straight 1000 yard seasons in which he’s missed a combined 4 games. As a result, he’s already 55th all-time in receiving yards with 9050. If I had to guess over/under last year’s 100 catches for 1295 yards and 12 touchdowns, I’d guess under because I don’t expect the Bears to have as good quarterback play this season, with McCown gone, but he’s still a low end WR1.

90 catches for 1220 yards and 9 touchdowns (176 pts standard)

WR Alshon Jeffery (Chicago)

Jeffery caught 89 passes for 140 targets (63.6%) for 1421 yards on 601 routes run, an average of 2.36 yards per route run. He isn’t as proven as Marshall and he didn’t draw as much coverage as Marshall did last season, but he was more productive than him in the passing game last season. He also added 106 yards on the ground. Going into his 3rd year in the league, Jeffery could easily be just as, if not more productive next season.

82 catches for 1240 yards and 9 touchdowns, 80 rushing yards (186 pts standard)

TE Martellus Bennett (Chicago)

A talented backup in Dallas, dominant as a run blocker, but working sparingly in the passing game behind Jason Witten, Bennett, a 2009 2nd round pick, has broken out as a starter over the past 2 seasons, averaging 60 catches for 693 yards and 5 touchdowns. He should post similar numbers as a low-end TE1 again this season.

59 catches for 710 yards and 5 touchdowns (101 pts standard)

Aug 212014
 

QB Matt Stafford (Detroit)

Stafford, the first overall pick in 2009, struggled in his first 2 years in the NFL, missing 19 games and completing 54.5% of his passes for an average of 5.92 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. However, he’s played all 48 games over the past 3 seasons, completing 60.6% of his passes for an average of 7.24 YPA, 90 touchdowns, and 52 interceptions. He’s also been better than his numbers, as he had 46 passes dropped in 2011 (most in the NFL), 49 passes dropped in 2012 (2nd most in the NFL), and 59 passes dropped in 2013 (most in the NFL). Now he gets Golden Tate and Eric Ebron added into the mix, which turns their receiving corps from a weakness into a strength. He’s an underrated fantasy asset.

4725 passing yards, 33 passing touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 100 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown (305 pts standard)

RB Reggie Bush (Detroit)

The Lions are planning on scaling back Bush’s role as a runner, as new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi comes over from the Sean Payton coaching tree in New Orleans and plans to use Bush as they did with Darren Sproles in New Orleans. Sproles caught an average of 77 passes over the past 3 seasons. Reggie Bush has caught an average of 44 over the past 3 seasons and could catch 60 passes this season. At the same time, he could see his carries drop down from 223 to the 140-160 range, as he goes into his age 29 season.

160 carries for 720 yards, 4 total touchdowns, 60 catches for 540 yards (150 pts standard)

RB Joique Bell (Detroit)

Any loss in carries by Bush will be the benefit of Joique Bell, which Bush has said publicly he is fine with. The Lions have been a pass happy, 3-wide receiver team over the past 3 seasons, averaging 680 pass attempts over the past 3 seasons. Now they will be more of a traditional offense. They used their first round pick on Eric Ebron, which means they’ll use more two-tight end sets (though they obviously still have the ability to throw out of two-tight end sets). They signed a traditional fullback in Jed Collins, who comes with Lombardi over New Orleans. They also gave a 3-year, 9.3 million dollar extension to restricted free agent Joique Bell, who figures to lead the team in carries in their new more traditional offense. The 5-11 220 pounder is their best traditional runner.

Bell doesn’t have as many breakaway runs as Bush, but he had 65 first downs on 219 touches last season, while Bush had 68 first downs on 277 touches. The Lions could easily be getting a steal with that 3-year deal. Over the past 2 seasons, Bell has been one of the more important backup running backs in the NFL. Last season, he played 562 snaps, 23rd most in the NFL among running backs. In the past 2 seasons, he’s averaged 4.29 yards per carry, while serving as a valuable goal line back (11 touchdowns) and receiver out of the backfield (105 catches).

200 carries for 860 yards, 8 total touchdowns, 60 catches for 500 yards (184 pts standard)

WR Calvin Johnson (Detroit)

Johnson had a “down year” in 2013 with 84 catches for 1492 yards and 12 touchdowns, his lowest catch and yardage totals since 2010. That was really only because he missed 2 games with injury (after playing all 16 games in the previous 2 seasons). Last season was actually the best season of Johnson’s career in terms of yards per route run, as he averaged 2.72 yards per route run. He’s averaged 2.55 yards per route run over the past 3 seasons since Stafford broke out as a starter. He’s the #1 wide receiver in fantasy football and real football.

95 catches for 1650 yards and 14 touchdowns (249 pts standard)

WR Golden Tate (Detroit)

The Lions signed Golden Tate to a 5-year, 31 million dollar deal with 13.25 million guaranteed this off-season. Golden Tate has never had a 1000 yard season, but he’s been stuck on a run heavy team in Seattle, since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010. He caught 45 passes on 65 attempts (69.2%) for 688 yards and 7 touchdowns on 378 routes run (1.80 yards per route run) in 2012. In 2013, he caught 64 passes on 93 attempts (68.8%) for 898 yards and 5 touchdowns on 447 routes run (2.01 yards per route run). Tate will see plenty of single coverage opposite Calvin Johnson and could run 500-600 routes in a pass heavier offense. He won’t see any downgrade in terms of his quarterback’s passing ability going from Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford and he could easily have 1000 receiving yards.

74 catches for 1020 yards and 8 touchdowns (150 pts standard)

Aug 212014
 

QB Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)

Over the past 5 seasons, Rodgers has played 71 games (only missing 2 games combined from 2009-2012) and completed 66.5% of his passes for an average of 8.40 YPA, 159 touchdowns, and 38 interceptions, a QB rating of 108.2. He’s also rushed for 1308 yards and 14 touchdowns on 266 carries, an average of 4.92 YPC. He missed 8 games with injury last season, but as long as he’s on the field (and his injury history is pretty limited), Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the game, if not the best. I prefer him in fantasy to Peyton Manning, both in terms of value at their respective ADP and overall, because he adds value as a runner.

4450 passing yards, 38 passing touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 200 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns (344 pts standard)

RB Eddie Lacy (Green Bay)

In 2013, Lacy rushed for 1178 yards and 11 touchdowns on 284 attempts, an average of 4.15 YPC. He also added 35 catches for 257 yards, en route to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. That YPC doesn’t seem terribly impressive, but he consistently carried the load, got positive yardage, and moved the chains. He had 73 first downs on 319 targets, including 61 first downs on 284 carries. He was 5th among running backs in rushing first downs.

On top of that, he played his best football when Aaron Rodgers was out of the lineup, helping to carry this team. He rushed for 666 yards and 7 touchdowns on 151 carries, an average of 4.41 YPC, and added 21 catches for 164 yards in the 8 games Rodgers missed. In their other 8 games, he rushed for 512 yards and 4 touchdowns on 133 carries, an average of 3.85 YPC, and added 14 catches for 103 yards. Going into his 2nd year in the league, Lacy could be even better, after playing most of his rookie year through an ankle injury. A full season of Aaron Rodgers will give him more running room and touchdown opportunities and if he runs like he did when Rodgers was out last year, he’ll give the Packers an incredibly potent balanced offense and be a top-5 running back in fantasy football.

300 carries for 1320 yards, 13 total touchdowns, 40 catches for 300 yards (240 pts standard)

WR Jordy Nelson (Green Bay)

Last season, Nelson caught 85 passes on 120 targets (70.8%) for 1314 yards and 8 touchdowns on 645 routes run, an average of 2.04 yards per route run. He was outstanding in the 8 games that Rodgers played last season, catching 49 passes on 67 targets (73.1%) for 810 yards and 8 touchdowns on 327 routes run, an average of 2.48 yards per route run. However, he was still alright when Rodgers was out of the lineup, catching 36 passes on 53 targets (67.9%) for 504 yards and a touchdown on 318 routes run, an average of 1.54 yards per route run. Last year was a career high for him in catches and yards and he should have another strong year this year. One issue is that, he may see fewer targets this season because Randall Cobb is coming back from injury.

82 catches for 1280 yards and 9 touchdowns (182 pts standard)

WR Randall Cobb (Green Bay)

Cobb had a breakout year in 2012, catching 80 passes on 102 targets (78.4%) for 954 yards and 8 touchdowns on 422 routes run, an average of 2.26 yards per route run. He was Pro Football Focus’ #11 ranked wide receiver that season. He looked on his way to a similar season in 2013, but injuries derailed that, limiting him to 6 games. He caught 31 passes on 40 targets (77.5%) for 433 yards and 4 touchdowns on 209 routes run, an average of 2.07 yards per route run. Going into his contract year this year, without much of an injury history, he should have another year similar to 2012.

80 catches for 950 yards and 8 touchdowns, 100 rushing yards (153 pts standard)

WR Jarrett Boykin (Green Bay)

Jarrett Boykin stepped up in Cobb’s absence, catching 49 passes on 75 targets (65.3%) for 681 yards on 410 routes run, an average of 1.66 yards per route run. Boykin was a 2012 7th round pick and only played 96 snaps as a rookie. He’s a marginal talent that Aaron Rodgers makes look better than he is and he’s only their #3 target at best. That being said, James Jones is gone so Boykin will probably replace him and his production. He had 59 catches on 88 targets (67.0%) for 817 yards on 527 routes run (1.55 yards per route run) and 3 touchdowns last season. There’s some late round appeal with him, particularly if either Nelson or Cobb get hurt this season.

50 catches for 700 yards and 6 touchdowns (106 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

RB Doug Martin (Tampa Bay)

Doug Martin, a 2012 1st round pick, had a great rookie year, rushing for 1454 yards and 11 touchdowns on 319 carries, 4.56 YPC, and adding 49 catches for 472 yards and another score. His sophomore season was about the opposite. Martin lasted 6 games before going down for the season with a shoulder injury and in those 6 games, he rushed for 456 yards and a touchdown on 127 carries, 3.59 YPA, and added just 12 catches for 66 yards.

Martin should be healthier this season and he should bounce back somewhat as a runner, but he has an injury history dating back to his collegiate days and he’s still a one year wonder in terms of being a proven NFL running back. Martin’s 2012 seems out of reach for him at the moment, especially given how bad the Buccaneers’ run blocking could be this season. The Buccaneers have also mentioned on multiple occasions that they want to use more of a committee in the backfield. 3rd round rookie Charles Sims could be done for the season, but Mike James and Bobby Rainey could still siphon off carries.

240 carries for 1030 yards, 8 total touchdowns, 41 catches for 340 yards (185 pts standard)

WR Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay)

Vincent Jackson is the only proven pass catcher the Buccaneers have. Over the past 6 seasons, he’s caught 351 passes for 6227 yards and 43 touchdowns on 624 targets (56.3%) and 2835 routes run, an average of 2.20 yards per route run. He’s a deep threat and not a consistent volume receiver, but he’s one of the better wide receivers in the league. The one minor concern is that he’s going into his age 31 season, but that’s probably not a problem yet.

70 catches for 1180 yards and 7 touchdowns (160 pts standard)

WR Mike Evans (Tampa Bay)

Evans is really talented, but he’s a raw rookie who doesn’t even turn 21 until the end of August. Rookie wide receivers tend to struggle anyway, even first round talents.  Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and they had 58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively as rookies. Let someone else overdraft him.

50 catches for 750 yards and 6 touchdowns (111 pts standard)

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Tampa Bay)

I mentioned wide receivers struggle as rookie. The same isn’t necessarily true for tight ends, but Seferian-Jenkins is a mere 2nd round rookie and won’t necessarily even start as the Buccaneers have yet to give him the starting job over Brandon Myers. That should remind you to temper your expectations for him in his rookie year because Myers isn’t very good.

45 catches for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns (84 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Matt Ryan (Atlanta)

Last season, Matt Ryan had his worst quarterback rating since 2009, but a quarterback rating of 89.6 is still really solid and most of his statistical decline can be attributed to the decline of his supporting cast. He completed 67.4% of his passes for an average of 6.94 YPA, 26 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. For his career, he’s completed 63.7% of his passes for an average of 7.14 YPA, 153 touchdowns, and 77 interceptions. He’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league and with his offensive supporting cast likely to be much better this season, he should once again lead one of the NFL’s more explosive and dangerous offenses. He’s a QB1.

4725 passing yards, 31 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 80 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown (297 pts standard)

RB Steven Jackson (Atlanta)

Last season, Steven Jackson was limited to 157 carries in 12 games and rushed for just 543 yards and 6 touchdowns, a pathetic average of 3.46 yards per carry. Jackson probably won’t be better or healthier this season. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. And after players have their drop off, they average just 169 carries per season at 3.52 yards per carry and just 5 touchdowns, so they’re really a non-factor as a back. Jackson has rushed for 10,678 yards (20th all-time), but Jackson is going into his age 31 season with 2553 career carries, so what happened last season is no surprise and should be seen as the beginning of a very swift end.

160 carries for 640 yards, 6 total touchdowns, 30 catches for 210 yards (121 pts standard)

RB Devonta Freeman (Atlanta)

The Falcons drafted Devonta Freeman in the 4th round, realizing they needed help at running back. He has a good chance to open the see as the primary backup to Jackson and have a significant role from the start. And if Jackson continues to struggle or gets hurt, that role will grow. If I had to guess, he’ll lead Falcon running backs in yards from scrimmage this season. That being said, while there are a lot of people who will vouch for Freeman as another running back who will prove to be a steal in the mid rounds, he’s still just a 4th round rookie and could easily struggle this season.

150 carries for 620 yards, 4 total touchdowns, 35 catches for 280 yards (114 pts standard)

WR Julio Jones (Atlanta)

Jones, the 6th overall pick in 2011, showed himself as one of the best young wide receivers in the game in his first 2 seasons in the league. In 2011 and 2012 combined, he caught 133 passes on 218 targets (61.0%) for 2157 yards and 18 touchdowns on 1035 routes run, an average of 2.08 yards per route run. He looked on his way to a breakout year in his 3rd year in the league (a common breakout year for wide receivers) in 2013, catching 41 passes on 57 targets (71.9%) for 580 yards and 2 touchdowns on 212 routes run, an average of 2.74 yards per route run, best in the NFL among eligible receivers.

However, he broke his foot 5 games into the season and missed the rest of the year, killing his chance at that breakout year. He has a troubling injury history, particularly with his foot, dating back to his collegiate days. The good news is that reports out of training camp are really promising and he’s only going into his age 25 season. If he can stay healthy, he could absolutely dominate the NFL this season and make life much easier for Matt Ryan. Just for fun, his stats in 2013 extrapolate to 131 catches for 1856 yards and 6 touchdowns over 16 games. He won’t reach that level of production, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he led the NFL in receiving if he stays healthy.

90 catches for 1500 yards and 12 touchdowns (222 pts standard)

WR Roddy White (Atlanta)

White missed 3 games and was severely limited for most of last season with leg problems, catching 20 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown in the first 8 games he played last season. Those 3 games were the first games he missed in his career and last season was the first season since the 2nd season of his career in 2006 that he had fewer than 1000 yards. The once reliably solid wide receiver no longer is. He did finish last season on a tear, catching 43 passes for 502 yards and 2 touchdowns in the final 5 games of the season once he got healthy, which could be promising for 2014.

However, his age and the fact that he’s coming off of a serious injury plagued down season are both concerns. Even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. White isn’t quite there right now, but he’s at the point in his career where is age is becoming a concern, going into his age 33 season. White’s 9,436 career receiving yards are “only” 45th all-time. White will still probably have a better year than last year if I had to put money on it, both in terms of production and efficiency, but his best days are behind him.

64 catches for 840 yards and 6 touchdowns (120 pts standard)

WR Harry Douglas (Atlanta)

With Tony Gonzalez gone, the Falcons will once again use a bunch of three-wide receiver sets this season. They’ll do a better job of that this year because White and Jones are healthier, allowing Harry Douglas to move back to his natural role on the slot as the Falcons’ 3rd receiver. Douglas caught 85 passes for 1067 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, but he showed himself to be overstretched as a number #1 receiver. His production was largely a result of volume and having Matt Ryan under center, as he averaged 1.66 yards per route run, dropped 9 passes, and had 7 interceptions on passes thrown to him. He’s a much better fit as the 3rd receiver. I don’t expect much fantasy production from him.

48 catches for 680 yards and 4 touchdowns (92 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Cam Newton (Carolina)

In 3 years in the league, Newton has completed 59.8% for an average of 7.66 YPA, 64 touchdowns, and 42 interceptions, while rushing for 2032 yards and 28 touchdowns on 364 attempts, an average of 5.58 YPC. He’s gotten slightly better in quarterback rating in each of the three seasons he’s been in the league. He could easily have his worst statistical year this season though. The Panthers lost their best two offensive lineman and every wide receiver who caught a pass for them last season. They didn’t add a ton of talent to replace those guys and Newton missed most of the off-season with an ankle problem. That ankle problem might not hurt them on the field this season, but missing all that practice time could hurt his chemistry with his new supporting cast, especially early in the season. He’s a low end QB1 because of his running ability.

3250 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 620 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns (292 pts standard)

RB DeAngelo Williams (Carolina)

DeAngelo Williams will probably be the lead back again. Williams has had an impressive career, averaging 4.84 yards per carry over 1370 career carries. However, he’s now going into his age 31 season and has averaged just 4.22 yards per carry over those 2 seasons combined. He’s clearly declining and could decline even more this season. He’s also only gone over 200 carries 3 times in 8 seasons (including last season) and doesn’t offer much in the passing game, with 173 catches in 111 career games, including just 39 over the past 2 seasons combined.

180 carries for 720 yards, 5 total touchdowns, 22 catches for 180 yards (120 pts standard)

RB Jonathan Stewart (Carolina)

Williams has had some issues with injuries in his career, but Jonathan Stewart has had even bigger problems with injuries. He only missed 2 games in his first 4 seasons combined, but he was consistently playing through injuries and it appears to have caught up with him over the past 2 seasons, as he’s missed a combined 17 games and carried the ball just a combined 141 times over those past 2 seasons. He’s also been limited to 3.66 yards per carry over the past 2 seasons. He’s a talented player when healthy, averaging 4.64 yards per carry for his career, despite his struggles over the last 2 seasons, but he’s rarely healthy. He’s also only gone over 200 carries in a season once in 6 years in the league and he’s only caught 105 passes in 77 games.

120 carries for 490 yards, 3 total touchdowns, 15 catches for 100 yards (77 pts standard)

RB Mike Tolbert (Carolina)

The Panthers’ best back might be fullback Mike Tolbert, who led Panther backs with 606 snaps played last season. He only averaged 3.57 yards per carry (361 rushing yards on 101 carries), but that’s partially because he was doing a lot of the dirty work and short yardage running. He picked up 2.02 yards per carry after contact and 31 first downs on 101 carries. He also was their best pass catching running back, catching 27 passes (which led Panther running backs) for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns.

90 carries for 360 yards, 5 total touchdowns, 25 catches for 200 yards (86 pts standard)

WR Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina)

Kelvin Benjamin could be forced into the #1 wide receiver role. Benjamin certainly has talent, but he’s very raw, as he only played two seasons of college football and only had one season where he had meaningful production. Rookie wide receivers tend to struggle anyway, even first round talents.  Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and they had 58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively as rookies.

Benjamin is rawer than most wide receivers drafted in the first round and was a very late first round pick. He could exceed those averages in terms of pure numbers because of the size of his role and the caliber of quarterback he has throwing to him, but he probably won’t play well or be that efficient. He showed himself to be incredibly athletic and physical both in college and at the combine (6-5 240 4.61 40), but he’s purely a deep threat at this point in his football career.

42 catches for 700 yards and 6 touchdowns (106 pts standard)

WR Jerricho Cotchery (Carolina)

Cotchery was a very good wide receiver with the Jets from 2007-2009, grading out above average in all 3 seasons, catching a combined 210 passes for 2809 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, he struggled mightily in 2010, catching 41 passes for 433 yards and 2 touchdowns. He ended up in Pittsburgh, where he played just a combined 553 snaps in 2011-2012. However, in 2013, he got a bigger role and caught 46 passes on 74 attempts (62.2%) for 607 yards and 10 touchdowns on 440 routes run, an average of 1.38 yards per route run. He’ll be starter in Carolina, but only out of necessity. Going into his age 32 season, he’s a low upside pick at the end of fantasy drafts.

50 catches for 650 yards and 5 touchdowns (95 pts standard)

TE Greg Olsen (Carolina)

Last season, Olsen caught 73 passes on 102 attempts (71.6%) for 816 yards and 6 touchdowns on 482 routes run, an average of 1.69 yards per route run. He lead them in receptions, yards, and touchdowns last season and will almost definitely do so again this season with Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and company all gone. He could easily surpass last season’s production. He’s an underrated fantasy asset at a weak tight end position.

78 catches for 900 yards and 8 touchdowns (138 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Drew Brees (New Orleans)

Since joining the Saints in 2006 and uniting with Sean Payton, he’s completed 67.3% of his passes for an average of 7.76 YPA, 283 touchdowns and 124 interceptions. He’s going into his age 35 season, but he’s shown no signs of decline. Last season, he completed 68.6% of his passes for an average of 7.94 YPA, 39 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Like Brady and Manning before him, Brees is another quarterback who could remain dominant into his mid-30s.

5200 passing yards, 41 passing touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 40 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown (348 pts standard)

RB Pierre Thomas (New Orleans)

Thomas only averaged 3.73 yards per carry last season (549 yards on 147 carries), but he also averaged 2.20 yards per carry after contact and broke 43 tackles on 224 carries, giving him the 18th best elusive rating at his position among eligible players. On top of that, he’s averaged 4.56 yards per carry for his career and he caught 77 passes for 513 yards last season. He’s going into his age 30 season and he’s only maxed out at 147 carries in a season (twice), but he’ll still have a significant role as a passing down back, especially with Darren Sproles gone.

120 carries for 520 yards, 5 total touchdowns, 75 catches for 600 yards

RB Mark Ingram (New Orleans)

Ingram was a first round pick in 2011, but he’s been a bust thus far in his career. He’s had just 356 carries in 3 seasons, averaging 4.11 yards per carry (1462 yards) and scoring 11 touchdowns. He’s missed 11 games in 3 seasons and has shown nothing as a pass catcher, only catching 24 passes for 143 yards in his career. He’ll compete with Khiry Robinson for the primary running down back role this season.

100 carries for 420 yards, 4 total touchdowns, 11 catches for 90 yards (75 pts standard)

RB Khiry Robinson (New Orleans)

Robinson, meanwhile, saw 76 snaps as an undrafted rookie and rushed for 224 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries, an average of 4.15 yards per carry. He doesn’t offer anything on passing downs either. The coaching staff really likes him though so, right now, I’d say that he’s the favorite to be their lead back right now. He flashed in the post-season, rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, an average of 4.86 yards per carry. I don’t see any New Orleans running back getting more than 150 carries though. Thomas is valuable in PPR, but other than that, it’s a fantasy wasteland.

140 carries for 620 yards, 5 total touchdowns, 10 catches for 80 yards (100 pts standard)

WR Marques Colston (New Orleans)

Marques Colston remains as the #1 wide receiver. He showed statistical decline last season, catching 75 passes for 943 yards and 5 touchdowns. It tied a career low for touchdowns and it was only the 2nd season of his 8-year career in which he went under 1000 yards, with the other season being a season in which he played just 11 games. However, he was still really efficient, catching 70.1% of his targets and averaging 1.77 yards per route run. He’s going into his age 31 season, he should have another solid season and probably lead Saint wide receivers in catches and yards.

70 catches for 1010 yards and 8 touchdowns (149 pts standard)

WR Brandin Cooks (New Orleans)

Rookie wide receivers rarely do anything. Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and they had 58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively as rookies. If Cooks can end up winning a starting job or a significant role, he could surpass those numbers, not because he’s more talented than the average 1st round wide receiver (or Johnson or Fitzgerald obviously), but because of the situation he was drafted into with Drew Brees throwing him the football. He’ll still be overdrafted though.

42 catches for 750 yards and 6 touchdowns (111 pts standard)

WR Kenny Stills (New Orleans)

Stills is competing with Cooks for the starting job. He probably won’t win it, but he’ll still have a significant role. The 2013 5th round pick struggled as a rookie. He caught 32 of his 46 targets (69.6%) for 641 yards and 5 touchdowns, but he did so on 496 routes run, an average of 1.29 yards per route run. He was purely a deep threat. That being said, rookie wide receivers almost always struggle, as I mentioned earlier, and he definitely flashed at times, so he could be improved in his 2nd year in the league.

45 catches for 700 yards and 5 touchdowns (100 pts standard)

TE Jimmy Graham (New Orleans)

Jimmy Graham is listed as a tight end, but he’s the Saints’ de facto #1 receiver. In 4 seasons in the league since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2010, he’s caught 301 passes for 3863 yards and 41 touchdowns on 454 targets (66.3%) and 1758 routes run, an average of 2.20 yards per route run. Rob Gronkowski is a significant better blocker and a more well-rounded tight end, but he has a significant injury history so Graham is the best pass catching tight end in the league. He’s easily the top tight end this year and a first round pick in fantasy, given the lack of depth at the tight end position.

91 catches for 1210 yards and 12 touchdowns (193 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Eli Manning (NY Giants)

From 2009-2012, Eli Manning completed 61.5% of his passes for an average of 7.80 YPA, 113 touchdowns, and 70 interceptions. However, last year, he struggled mightily, grading out 30th out of 42 eligible, completing 57.5% of his passes for an average of 6.93 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions. That could just be a down year, but he’s also going into his age 33 season, so it’s a serious concern. There’s not much to get excited about here from a fantasy perspective.

3750 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 40 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns (206 pts standard)

RB Rashad Jennings (NY Giants)

Jennings was impressive last season, taking the starting job away from the struggling Darren McFadden mid-season in Oakland. He rushed for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns on 163 carries, an average of 4.50 YPC, and also added 36 catches for 292 yards. The issue is that he’s a one year wonder. He didn’t play a snap in 2011 thanks to injuries and then rushed for 283 yards and 2 touchdowns on 101 carries in 2012, 2.80 YPC.

In his career, he’s rushed for 1677 yards and 13 touchdowns on 387 carries (4.33 YPC), catching 97 passes for 746 yards. He’s never played all 16 games in a season and has only played 53 out of a possible 80 games in 5 seasons in the league since being drafted in the 7th round in 2009. He’s also already going into his age 29 season, after being 24 years old when he was drafted. The Giants are counting on him to be a” bell cow” feature back, but there are no guarantees obviously. He’s a borderline RB2/RB3 purely on volume.

220 carries for 950 yards, 6 total touchdowns, 38 catches for 280 yards (159 pts standard)

RB Andre Williams (NY Giants) Jennings is unproven as a feature back so Williams has some late round upside. He was only a 4th round pick because he’s purely an inside the tackles runner and I don’t expect big things from him as a rookie, but he could steal the goal line carries and he’s pretty locked into the #2 back role right now, with David Wilson retiring.

80 carries for 330 yards, 4 total touchdowns, 8 catches for 60 yards (63 pts standard)

WR Victor Cruz (NY Giants)

Victor Cruz remains as the #1 wide receiver and an every down player. He also moves to the slot in 3-wide receiver sets. The undrafted free agent from the University of Massachusetts in 2010, Cruz didn’t play a snap as a rookie. Over the past 3 seasons though, he’s caught 241 passes on 376 attempts (64.1%) for 3626 yards and 23 touchdowns on 1541 routes run, an average of 2.35 yards per route run. He had a down year last year, catching 73 passes for 998 yards and 4 touchdowns as the whole passing offense took a step back. I expect him to be closer to that than the 84 catches for 1314 yards and 10 touchdowns per season he averaged from 2011-2012 because I don’t have huge expectations for this whole passing offense, but he’s still a WR2.

84 catches for 1060 yards and 7 touchdowns (148 pts standard)

WR Reuben Randle (NY Giants)

A 2012 2nd round pick, Randle has caught 60 of 108 targets (55.6%) for 909 yards and 9 touchdowns on 580 routes run in his career in 2 seasons, an average of 1.57 yards per route run. The Giants will be hoping for a 3rd year breakout year from him. He’s expected to be the #2 wide receiver and should get a fair amount of targets as the Giants don’t have anything at tight end. Something comparable to the 56 catches for 896 yards that Hakeem Nicks had last season, plus more touchdowns, is pretty reasonable for Randle. He’s a solid bench player in fantasy.

61 catches for 800 yards and 6 touchdowns (116 pts standard)

WR Odell Beckham (NY Giants)

I hate rookie wide receivers in fantasy. They’re always over-drafted because of their name and that’s true of Odell Beckham as well. Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and they had 58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively as rookies. Beckham will only be the #3 wide receiver as a rookie.

41 catches for 550 yards and 4 touchdowns (79 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Tony Romo (Dallas)

Romo is once again coming off of a very strong season, completing 63.9% of his passes for an average of 7.16 YPA, 31 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, a QB rating of 96.7. For his career, he completes 64.6% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA, 208 touchdowns, and 101 interceptions. The concern with Romo isn’t a lack of clutch (whatever that means). It’s that he’s going into his age 34 season coming off of a significant back injury with his YPA declining in every season since 2011 (8.02 YPA, 7.57 YPA, 7.16 YPA) and his completion percentage declining in every season since 2010 (69.5%, 66.3%, 65.6%, 63.9%).

4325 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 50 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns (260 pts standard)

RB DeMarco Murray (Dallas)

DeMarco Murray had the best season of his career in 2013, rushing for 1121 yards and 9 touchdowns on 217 attempts, an average of 5.17 YPC. He also added 53 catches for 350 yards and a touchdown through the air. I’m skeptical whether or not he can repeat that kind of season, given his injury history. He’s been banged up dating back to college, even missing 2 games last season, and missing a combined 11 games in 3 seasons in the league. He’s never played more than 14 games in a season and the 270 touches he had last season blew his previous career high of 196 out of the water.

200 carries for 960 yards, 7 total touchdowns, 45 catches for 360 yards (174 pts standard)

RB Lance Dunbar (Dallas)     

If Murray misses time, it’ll be a bigger role for Lance Dunbar, who could have a significant role either way. Scott Linehan, coming in from Detroit to essentially coordinate their offesne, sees Dunbar as someone who can be a Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles/Danny Woodhead type weapon so he’ll have a significant role on passing downs and make Murray largely a two-down running back. He won’t see a lot of carries unless Murray gets hurt, but he could see 40-50 catches.

100 carries for 450 yards, 4 total touchdowns, 40 catches for 350 yards (104 pts standard)

WR Dez Bryant (Dallas)

Dez Bryant has come into his own over the past two seasons, averaging 2.11 yards per route run and catching 185 passes for 2615 yards and 25 touchdowns in the past two seasons combined, while not missing a single game. I expect more of the same from him this season, as easily the top wide receiver in an explosive pass offense.

90 catches for 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns (186 pts standard)

WR Terrance Williams (Dallas)

The heavy favorite to be the #2 wide receiver is Terrence Williams, who was 2nd on the team in snaps played by a wide receiver last season with 700, ahead of the injury plagued Miles Austin, who is now gone. The 3rd round rookie caught 44 passes on 72 targets (61.1%) for 736 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns on 490 routes run, an average of 1.50 yards per route run, which isn’t great. Still, he has upside and he could easily be better in his 2nd year in the league considering rookie wide receivers rarely do anything.

51 catches for 770 yards and 5 touchdowns (107 pts standard)

TE Jason Witten (Dallas)

Jason Witten remains one of the best and most reliable tight ends in the NFL. Since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2003, he’s missed one game, missing one as a rookie when he broke his jaw. He played in the opener in 2012 less than 3 weeks after rupturing his spleen and needing to sign a waiver to get onto the field. Excluding his rookie year, he’s always been between 64 and 110 catches 754 and 1152 yards and 1 and 7 touchdowns. He is once again a solid TE1.

80 catches for 900 yards and 5 touchdowns (120 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Robert Griffin (Washington)

As a rookie, Griffin completed 65.6% of his passes for an average of 8.14 YPA, 20 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, while rushing for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns on 120 carries (6.79 YPC). Last season, he completed 60.1% of his passes for an average of 7.02 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, while rushing for 489 yards and no touchdowns on 86 carries (5.69 YPC). This was all before being shut down for the season with 3 weeks to go. The good news is he should bounce back this season. Most of his struggles last season were the result of the torn ACL he suffered in January of 2013. He was able to make it back for week 1, but it clearly limited him. Even Tom Brady struggled, by his standards, in his first year back from his torn ACL and Griffin is much more reliant on his legs and had less time to recover (Brady’s injury was in September). He’s a great bounce back candidate.

3750 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 450 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns (289 pts standard)

RB Alfred Morris (Washington)

Morris rushed for 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns on 335 carries as a 6th round rookie in 2012, an average of 4.81 YPC. In 2013, he rushed for 1275 yards and 7 touchdowns on 276 carries, an average of 4.62 YPC. That’s obviously not a bad season, but he wasn’t as good as he was as a rookie. The good news is that he should find more running space with a healthy Robert Griffin functioning as a dual option at quarterback. The bad news is that Jay Gruden is coming in as head coach and wants to open up the passing offense. Morris has caught 20 passes in 2 seasons. Gruden is on record saying that he wants to give passing down back Roy Helu more snaps.

Last season, Helu played 547 snaps while Morris played 611 snaps. Morris will have a role similar to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had 472 snaps in Cincinnati, as opposed to 627 snaps for passing down back Giovani Bernard. BJGE still had 220 carries last season and Morris is much more talented than him, while Helu is not as talented as Bernard. It could be a more even split in snaps and Morris could still see 240-260 carries this season, including all the goal line carries, and average a high YPC, but Helu will have a bigger role than last season.

250 carries for 1180 yards, 10 total touchdowns, 15 catches for 100 yards (188 pts standard)

RB Roy Helu (Washington)

As I mentioned, Roy Helu should have a bigger role this season, both in terms of carries and catches. He’s only averaged 4.26 yards per carry in 3 seasons in the league, but he’s caught 87 passes for 675 yards and a touchdown. He won’t do a ton of damage as a runner, but he could catch 40-50 passes. He has more value in PPR leagues than regular leagues.

100 carries for 420 yards, 4 total touchdowns, 40 catches for 320 yards (98 pts standard)

WR Pierre Garcon (Washington)

Garcon missed 6 games and was limited in others in 2012, in the first year of a 5-year, 42.5 million dollar deal that was highly speculative when he signed it because he had never had a 1000 yard season in four years with the Colts, three with Peyton Manning. However, Garcon still flashed in 2012 on 403 snaps, grading out well above average and catching 44 passes for 633 yards and 4 touchdowns on 215 routes run, an average of 2.94 yards per route run that was 2nd best in the NFL. Given that he did that with a bad foot, it was very promising for 2013.

He wasn’t quite as efficient in 2013, but that’s to be expected considering he had significantly more playing time and his quarterback play was significantly worse. He was still really good, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked wide receiver. He caught 113 catches on 174 targets (64.9%) for 1346 yards and 5 touchdowns on 615 routes run, an average of 2.19 yards per route run, 12th in the NFL. He was largely a volume receiver, catching primarily underneath targets, with only 25 catches 10+ yards downfield, and finishing 2nd in the NFL in targets. He won’t get as many targets this season with DeSean Jackson coming in and Jordan Reed back healthy, but he should have more room to work with and better quarterback play.

88 catches for 1090 yards and 5 touchdowns (139 pts standard)

WR DeSean Jackson (Washington)

DeSean Jackson had a career year last year, catching 82 passes for 1332 yards and 9 touchdowns, all either career highs or tying career highs. The Eagles still cut him though, in favor of re-signing Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. He’s highly unlikely to match those numbers now that he’s out of Chip Kelly’s system. He could easily be 3rd on the Redskins in catches, serving primarily as a deep decoy while Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed eat up underneath catches. Stay away for fantasy purposes.

60 catches for 960 yards and 6 touchdowns (132 pts standard)

TE Jordan Reed (Washington)

Reed, a 3rd round rookie last season, missed 7 games with concussions, but still caught 45 passes on 60 attempts (75.0%) for 499 yards and 4 touchdowns on 228 routes run, an average of 2.19 yards per route run, 3rd in the NFL. If he stays healthy, he could have a breakout year in 2014. He won’t get a ton of targets with Garcon and Jackson also on the team, but there will be plenty of room for him to work in and he should have quarterback play this season.

68 catches for 790 yards and 6 touchdowns (115 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Nick Foles (Philadelphia)

Foles broke into the lineup because of a Vick injury (what else) and took the starting job and ran with it, completing 64.0% of his passes for an average of 9.12 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He led the league in QB rating at 119.2, ahead of even Peyton Manning, and finished with the 3rd best QB rating season all time. I don’t expect him to be that efficient again. He definitely won’t throw an interception on just 0.6% of his passes again (2 interceptions on 317 attempts). Opponents also now have a full season of tape of Chip Kelly’s offense, so they won’t catch opponents off guard as much, though part of what makes Kelly so great is his ability to adapt. Foles also lost DeSean Jackson, though they’ll attempt to replace him with Jeremy Maclin, Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews, and a bigger year from Zach Ertz. Foles is still a QB1.

4000 passing yards, 32 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 300 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns (312 pts standard)

RB LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia)

Last season, McCoy rushed for 1607 yards and 9 touchdowns on 314 attempts, an average of 5.12 yards per attempt, and caught 52 passes on 539 yards and 2 touchdowns. He broke 75 tackles on 366 touches and averaged 2.38 yards per carry after contact, giving him the 9th best elusive rating in the NFL. There’s obviously no guarantee he continues that kind of success. It’s hard to repeat that at any position, especially at running back, especially when you’re a 5-10 198 pounder who had 366 touches (391 including post-season). However, he’s safely a top-3 running back in fantasy this year.

280 carries for 1340 yards, 12 total touchdowns, 50 catches for 450 yards (251 pts standard)

RB Darren Sproles (Philadelphia)

Darren Sproles is a “running back.” I put running back in quotations because he’s had 291 catches to 238 carries over the past 4 seasons combined and he wasn’t brought to Philadelphia to help in the running game. He’ll backup feature back LeSean McCoy, but McCoy played 890 snaps last season and his backup played 199 snaps, including 75 carries. Sproles will help out as a versatile weapon in the passing game and often play at the same time as McCoy, lining up in the other side of the backfield and in the slot primarily. I expect 6-8 touches per game from him.

50 carries for 240 yards, 4 total touchdowns, 50 catches for 400 yards (88 pts standard)

WR Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia)

The most promising wide receiver for the Eagles is Jeremy Maclin. Maclin missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Maclin is actually a more versatile player as compared to Riley Cooper and even DeSean Jackson and I think he can be a strong fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, though he’s yet to play for Kelly in a regular season game. Injuries have been the problem for Maclin throughout his career as the 2009 1st round pick has missed 21 games in 5 years in his career, including all of last season and has only once played all 16 games. He’s averaged 1.57 yards per route run throughout his career. The 2009 1st round pick could have the best season of his career in 2014 if he can stay healthy.

70 catches for 1050 yards and 7 touchdowns (147 pts standard)

WR Riley Cooper (Philadelphia)

A year ago, Cooper was the Eagles 4th receiver and had 46 catches for 679 catches and 5 touchdowns in the first 3 years of his career. He struggled to start the 2013 season as well, catching 8 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in his first 5 games in a starting role, before breaking out down the stretch. He had only played 1054 snaps before last season and graded out below average in each of his first 3 seasons in the league. He’s a great fit for the Eagles’ offense and Chip Kelly could easily continue to get the most out of him, but he’s a one-year wonder and he could struggle without Jackson opposite him. He’s certainly not the coverage changing receiver that Jackson was.

55 catches for 820 yards and 5 touchdowns (112 pts standard)

WR Jordan Matthews (Philadelphia)

I hate rookie wide receivers in fantasy. Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and they had 58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively as rookies. Matthews wasn’t even a 1st round pick. He’ll be the Eagles’ primary slot receiver this year, which was a big role last season, but he’ll cede snaps to both Darren Sproles and to more two-tight end sets, so he won’t play as much as slot man Jason Avant did in 2013. He’s only worth a look in deep leagues.

45 catches for 550 yards and 4 touchdowns (79 pts standard)

TE Zach Ertz (Philadelphia)

Zach Ertz impressed in limited action as a rookie and will be counted on to help replace DeSean Jackson’s production. Ertz caught 36 passes on 55 attempts (65.5%) for 469 yards and 4 touchdowns on 243 routes run, an impressive 1.93 yards per route run. Going into his 2nd year in the league, the 6-5 250 pound Stanford product will have a bigger role and be used all over the formation. The 2013 2nd round pick could have a breakout year.

50 catches for 680 yards and 6 touchdowns (104 pts standard)

TE Brent Celek (Philadelphia)

Brent Celek caught 32 passes on 47 attempts (68.1%) for 502 yards and 6 touchdowns on 319 routes run last season, an average of 1.59 yards per route run. He could have a bigger role in the passing game this season with Jackson gone, but Ertz is the Philadelphia tight end to own. Celek is a much better blocker than pass catcher.

40 catches for 550 yards and 4 touchdowns (79 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Joe Flacco (Baltimore)

Joe Flacco was pretty consistently a slightly above average quarterback in the first 5 seasons of his career from 2008-2012. His QB rating had always fallen between 80.3 and 93.6. His completion percentages had always fallen between 57.6% and 63.1%. His YPAs had always fallen between 6.66 and 7.41. His touchdowns had always fallen between 20 and 25 (with the exception of his rookie year) and his interceptions had always fallen between 10 and 12.

He then had a fantastic post-season in 2012, en route to that Super Bowl, completing 57.9% of his passes for an average of 9.05 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He followed that up with the worst season of his career in 2013, completing 59.7% of his passes for an average of 6.37 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions, easily a career worst QB rating of 73.1. Part of it was his fault but he really didn’t have much help. The Ravens made some changes around him so there’s some bounce back potential, but he’s still just a QB2.

3700 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 100 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown (224 pts standard)

RB Ray Rice (Baltimore)

From 2009-2012, Rice averaged 277 carries for 1267 yards and 8 touchdowns and 70 catches for 610 yards and 2 touchdowns per season, an average of 4.57 yards per carry. However, in 2013, he rushed for 660 yards and 4 touchdowns on 214 carries (3.08 YPC) and caught 58 passes for 321 yards. He broke just 13 tackles on 272 touches and averaged 1.52 yards per carry after contact, giving him easily the league’s worst elusive rating.

Rice isn’t over the hill, only going into his age 27 season and his struggles last year are being attributed to overwork over the previous 4 seasons (1387 touches), a nagging hip injury, and him being overweight. He says the hip injury is behind him and he’s slimmed down this off-season and he’s been looking better in practice so a bounce back year isn’t out of the question, especially with a better offensive line and a new offensive system in place. Hurting his chances at a bounce back year is a two game suspension he’ll face to start the season, after assaulting his now wife this off-season.

180 carries for 720 yards, 5 total touchdowns, 40 catches for 300 yards (132 pts standard)

RB Bernard Pierce (Baltimore)

The player who can take the most advantage of Rice’s potential suspension is Bernard Pierce. Pierce, a 2012 3rd round pick, proved to be very valuable as a rookie en route to a Super Bowl victory, totaling 734 yards and a touchdown on 140 carries across the regular season and post-season, an average of 5.24 yards per carry. However, thanks to the blocking, an injury of his own, and his own struggles, Pierce averaged just 2.87 yards per carry last season and was unable to take advantage of a struggling Rice. He had a better elusive though so more of his struggles can be attributed to the blocking. Healthier, in a new system in his 3rd year in the league, Pierce could have a bounce back year. If he impresses as the lead back in Rice’s absence, he could remain in that role.

160 carries for 670 yards, 5 total touchdowns, 22 catches for 130 yards (110 pts standard)

RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (Baltimore)

The Ravens are going to give both Rice and Pierce the opportunity to bounce back this season, but 4th round rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro is still worth monitoring in all leagues and drafting as a late round flier in deep leagues. At the very least, he’ll see action early in the season when Rice is suspended. He’s the definition of a deep sleeper.

90 carries for 380 yards, 3 total touchdowns, 15 catches for 110 yards (67 pts standard)

WR Torrey Smith (Baltimore)

Smith appeared to have a breakout year last season in his 3rd year in the league after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, catching 65 passes for 1128 yards and 4 touchdowns, but he’s a fairly incomplete volume wide receiver who wasn’t as good as his stats suggested last season. He only caught 51.2% of his targets (65 catches on 127 targets) and only caught 39 passes on balls that went 10 or fewer yards through the air, 71st most in the NFL. He’s pretty much just a deep threat who was overstretched last season. He’ll catch more passes in the Ravens’ new west coast offense under Gary Kubiak, but he’s not an ideal fit for the offense because of his limited route running ability. It’s possible he develops more this season, only going into his age 25 season.

71 catches for 1050 yards and 6 touchdowns (141 pts standard)

TE Dennis Pitta (Baltimore)

Pitta missed 12 games with a hip problem last off-season and was limited upon his return. Still, he caught 20 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown in 4 games, which extrapolates to 80 catches for 716 yards and 4 touchdowns over 16 games. He did that on 128 routes run, an average of 1.32 yards per route run. He caught a lot of passes in those 4 games, but showed little explosiveness. Now he should be completely healthy and he’s going into a system under Gary Kubiak that benefits tight ends. The Ravens obviously believe in him, giving him a 5-year, 32.5 million dollar deal ahead of free agency this off-season. He’s never had more than 61 catches for 669 yards and 7 touchdowns in a season, which he did in 2012, when he averaged 1.69 yards per route run, but I see him exceeding that this season.

65 catches for 760 yards and 6 touchdowns (112 pts standard)

Aug 172014
 

QB Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh)

Roethlisberger’s 2013 season was right in line with his career averages as he completed 64.2% of his passes for an average of 7.30 YPA, 28 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, a QB rating of 92.0. In his career, he completes 63.3% of his passes for an average of 7.85 YPA, 219 touchdowns, and 122 interceptions, a QB rating of 92.6. He takes fewer shots downfield now under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, which has lowered his YPA, but he completes a higher percentage of his passes and has a better touchdown to interception ratio. One thing Roethlisberger did last season that was unusual is play all 16 games, something he had only done once in his career prior. He’s missed 17 games in 10 seasons and will probably miss a game or two with some sort of injury this season, as his playing style leads him to take a lot of hits.

Projection: 3800 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 120 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown (254 pts standard)

RB Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh)

Le’Veon Bell, a 2013 2nd round pick, returns as the starter. He only rushed 860 yards and 8 touchdowns on 244 carries last season, an average of 3.52 YPC, but he broke tackles (46 broken tackles on 289 touches), got yards after contact (2.11 YPC after contact), and moved the chains (48 rushing first downs, 14th in the NFL). He also added 45 catches for 399 yards through the air. He missed 3 games and struggled through an injury at times, but now he’s going into his 2nd year in the league and he should be healthier. He rushed for 578 yards and 5 touchdowns on 164 carries (3.52 YPC) and caught 28 passes for 252 yards in his final 8 games. The issue is LeGarrette Blount is now around to steal carries, especially near the goal line.

240 carries for 960 yards, 7 total touchdowns, 55 catches for 480 yards (186 pts standard)

RB LeGarrette Blount (Pittsburgh)

LeGarrette Blount is a big name after what he did to the Colts in the playoffs, rushing for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, people forget he had just 6 yards on 5 carries the following week in a loss in Denver. Blount averaged 5.19 yards per carry last season, including playoffs, on a combined 182 carries, but he was also available for a late round pick and a minimal salary the off-season prior, after averaging 4.14 yards per carry on 225 carries in 2011 and 2012 combined. His career average of 4.68 yards per carry is pretty solid, but he offers nothing as a pass catcher (23 career catches), pass protector, has minimal special teams experience (17 career returns), fumbles often (9 fumbles on 579 career carries) and has a history of discipline problems. He’ll get touches in Pittsburgh, especially around the goal line, but he’ll probably need a Bell injury to be relevant outside of deep leagues.

140 carries for 630 yards, 6 total touchdowns, 5 catches for 40 yards (103 pts standard)

WR Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh)

Because of their off-season losses at wide receiver, Antonio Brown could have even more targets this year than he did last year, when he was targeted 159 times, 4th most among wide receivers in the NFL. He caught 110 of those targets (69.2%) for 1498 yards and 8 touchdowns and averaged 2.37 yards per route run. The only player who had more receiving yards than him last season was Josh Gordon, who is currently expected to be suspended for the entire 2014 season.

Now fully out of the shadow of guys like Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace, Brown, 2010 6th round pick, is quietly one of the best wide receivers in the game. He’s caught 245 passes for 3394 yards and 15 touchdowns over the past 3 seasons combined and now he’s coming off of the best season of his career. He’s an excellent route runner and a perfect fit for Todd Haley’s system.

102 catches for 1440 yards and 7 touchdowns (186 pts standard)

TE Heath Miller (Pittsburgh)

Heath Miller could be 2nd on the team in targets. Miller was limited to 58 catches for 593 yards and a touchdown last season as he missed 2 games and was limited in others after tearing his ACL towards the end of the 2012 season. That should be behind him now and he was better towards the end of last season, as he caught 34 passes for 325 yards in his final 8 games. That extrapolates to 68 catches for 650 yards over 16 games. From 2009-2012, he averaged 60 catches for 687 yards and 5 touchdowns per season and he could easily have a year similar, if not better, than that this season as the Steelers’ 2nd option.

63 catches for 670 yards and 5 touchdowns (97 pts standard)