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Dissenting Opinions: Michael Crabtree's thin line between love and hate

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Can Michael Crabtree stand out in a crowded, and conservative, 49ers offense? (USAT)

Can Michael Crabtree stand out in a crowded, and conservative, 49ers offense? (USAT)

In the words of Ricky Ricardo, the Yahoo fantasy football experts have "some 'splainin' to do." I'm talking about our '14 fantasy football rankings, which we have been updating throughout the summer. Among these lists, certain Yahoos stick out like a sore thumb as it pertains to their rankings of certain players. And, with the bulk of the fantasy industry preparing for drafts over the next couple of weeks, it's high time that we defend our outlier rankings.

Below you'll find arguments from each of our experts, as we attempt to explain why we love/hate a player more than the rest of our colleagues. I'll start things off with a closer look at a bull and a bear from my wide receiver rankings. (Note that the number in parentheses indicates how much higher or lower the player is ranked by the expert compared to the consensus of the remaining Yahoo experts):

 Cordarrelle Patterson, Min, WR - Funston WR rank No. 13 (+7)

I'm all in on the second-year athletic dynamo. He's got an offensive coordinator in Norv Turner who called more passes last year as the OC for the Browns than any other team in the league. And he made receiver Josh Gordon fantasy's most productive aerial target. And, Gordon, much like Patterson, entered the season as a perceived physical freak, albeit a bit raw and unproven. Patterson also should benefit from a Vikings defense that allowed 30 points per game, most in the NFL. The need to throw the ball should be ever-present in Minnesota. Of course, opposing defenses won't be able to key on that fact given that Adrian Peterson still resides in the Vikings backfield. Patterson showed that he can be an elite-level fantasy WR by posting the fourth-most fantasy points at the position over the final five weeks of '13. I expect him to pick up right where he left off. (Funston)

Michael Crabtree, SF, WR - Funston WR rank No. 31 (-13)

Sorry, but I'm not buying Crabtree as a WR2 for fantasy purposes. He's on a team that threw less than any other team in the league last season, and despite reports that San Fran will open up the passing game, I'm having a hard time believing a team that was so close to making its second straight Super Bowl in '13 is going to drastically alter its successful run-heavy approach.

In the eight games Crabtree played in '13 (counting three postseason contests), he averaged just 60.9 yards per game and tallied just one touchdown. That wouldn't have cracked the top 40 last season among wideouts in terms of per-game fantasy production.

Crabtree's best season came in '12 when the team switched mid-season to Colin Kaepernick at QB. That season, Vernon Davis' role was minimized, as he was used heavily as a blocker, and he also complained about his lack of chemistry with Kaepernick. Last year, the team added Anquan Boldin and also dialed up VD's role again in the passing game (13 TDs) with Crabtree nursing his Achilles' injury. This offseason, the team continued to add passing-game parts, drafting Bruce Ellington and signing vet Stevie Johnson. So, there's more receiving weapons while the likelihood remains that the passing pie won't be that much bigger. That's not a top 25 fantasy WR recipe in my book. (Funston)

Of course, Dalton Del Don, a Bay area native, has a completely different take on Crabtree. He defends Richard Sherman's nemesis while also throwing a few barbs at Detroit's signal caller:

Michael Crabtree, SF, WR - Del Don WR rank No. 12  (+10)

The last time Michael Crabtree was both 100 percent healthy and had Colin Kaepernick throwing to him, he was a monster, totaling 55 catches for 823 yards and seven touchdowns over the final eight games of the 2012 season. Whether it be by design or necessity, thanks to a defense that projects to decline, the 49ers are almost certainly going to throw more this year, and maybe by a significant margin. Crabtree, whom I have as my No. 12 wide receiver – ten spots ahead of our staff composite rankings – stands to benefit. (Del Don)
 

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Where would Stafford be without Megatron? (USAT)

Where would Stafford be without Megatron? (USAT)

Matthew Stafford, Det, QB - Del Don QB rank No. 12 (-5)

Stafford has averaged a modest 24.5 touchdown tosses over the last two years despite attempting an insane 1,361 passes. Don’t get me wrong, the volume is good for his fantasy value, but it’s also a requirement for the QB with a career 7.0 YPA mark, as efficiency isn’t Stafford’s game. It’s unclear what the new coaching staff will do, but it’s nearly impossible to have a better fantasy environment than Stafford has enjoyed over the last two years. If Calvin Johnson were to suffer a serious injury, Stafford would likely be droppable. No other top quarterback option is so reliant upon a teammate staying healthy. (Del Don)

 Brad Evans actually believes that Stafford could be the No. 1 overall QB in '14. But we've decided that bold claim demands its own separate piece, and Evans is going to explain his Stafford argument in great detail later this week. Until then, we'll let Evans explain his love for another QB (Tony Romo) in addition to his surprising disdain for Marshawn Lynch:

Tony Romo, Dal, QB –Evans QB rank No. 6 (+6)

He’s polarizing, controversial and ‘undraftable’ to many because of his late-game meltdowns, but the disdain toward Romo, when it comes to fantasy, must cease. Excluding his injury-shortened campaign four years ago, Jerry Jones’ 'Boy has finished inside the fantasy QB top 10 every year since 2007, averaging 18.1 fantasy points per game in standard Yahoo formats (4 pts/pass TD). Blessed with a nuclear arsenal (Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray), arguably the worst defense in the league and a vertically minded offensive coordinator (Scott Linehan), Romo has reasonable odds to record his finest numbers to date. And don’t freak about his back. In his last preseason game against Baltimore, his trademark elusiveness and scrambling ability were on display. Roughly 4,800 yards and 30-33 TDs are in my fearless forecast. (Evans)
 
Marshawn Lynch, Sea, RB –Evans RB rank No. 10 (-4)

Over the past three years, including the playoffs, Lynch has averaged 364.7 touches per season. Tiresome. At 28, his odometer reading is rather unsettling. His dramatic decline in yards per carry from 2012-2013 (5.0 to 4.2), underuse in the pass game and the Seattle offensive line’s sketchy run-blocking performance raise additional flags. It’s no wonder why the 'Hawks coaching staff hasn’t been dismissive when asked about increased roles for Christine Michael and Robert Turbin. Lynch will still shoulder a sizable workload, but it seems likely he will relinquish some 8-12 touches per game. In other words, he’s an enhanced risk at his Round 1 price tag and precisely why I have him at the bottom of the RB top 10. Just over five backs per year have busted since 2009. This year, Beast Mode could add to that total. (Evans)

While Evans thinks Beast Mode could see a dimisnished role in Seattle this season, Andy Behrens thinks it'll be business as usual for Cam Newton in Carolina despite offseason ankle surgery, an injury that doesn't scare him nearly as much as Rob Gronkowski's knee:

Cam Newton, Car, QB - Behrens QB rank No. 4 (+5)

Here's a case where I have no idea - zero, none, nil - why any of my colleagues are down on Cam. He's never failed to deliver a top-four positional finish. Throughout his career, Newton has been his team's primary goal-line rusher. The man has run for 28 scores over three NFL seasons, most of them from inside-the-5. You think that's changing? Or are you worried about this year's receiving corps? If so, I'll remind you that last season's receivers were mostly useless. Owning Cam is like owning a combo QB2 and RB3. As dual-threat fantasy quarterbacks go, you can't beat him. (Behrens)

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Gronk: Fantasy health risk No. 1 (USAT)

Gronk: Fantasy health risk No. 1 (USAT)

Rob Gronkowski, NE, TE - Behrens TE rank No. 6 (-3)

It's clear at this point that I'm not only on an island within the Yahoo team where Gronk is concerned, but also in the fantasy industry generally. Consensus is clearly that he should be the No. 2 or 3 player at his position, and his upside is vintage Gronkowski - something like 1,300 yards and 16 TDs. But I simply want you all to remember that by opening week, he'll be only eight months removed from ACL surgery. Eight months. While it's true that Adrian Peterson gave us a massive fantasy season on a similar recovery timeline, there are a thousand other players in recent years, across multiple sports, who've struggled to regain their pre-injury form. To me, it seems silly to bet on Gronk being an ultra-rare outlier. If he can deliver, say, 65 catches and 750 yards so soon after having his knee rebuilt, I'd call that a heroic year. Where you're drafting him, you'd have to call it a bust. (Behrens)

Finally, Scott Pianowski has some strong feelings for a pair of name-brand running backs dealing with a head coaching change:

Alfred Morris, Was, RB - Pianowski RB rank No. 9  (+5)
Alfred Morris' 2013 season was misunderstood by many pundits. There's nothing wrong with a 4.6 YPC, and while the touchdown count looks modest (seven, down from 13), part of that came from Shanahanigans, the previous regime's aim to mess with anyone and everyone. In Week 7, the staff gifted Roy Helu three touchdowns (two from inside the 5), while Morris chugged along with a solid 19-95 line. And Morris rolled up a snappy121 rushing yards two weeks later, the same day Washington graciously handed three goal-line plunges to fullback Darrel Young (someone who collected 12 piddly carries the entire year).

New head coach Jay Gruden employed a platoon approach with his Cincinnati backs last season, but that was largely driven by personnel - a slowing veteran in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, pushed by an energetic rookie in Gio Bernard. The Redskins don't have another back in Morris' class, and he'll see wider rushing lanes this year if Robert Griffin III returns to full health. You might get Morris as your RB3, and that's Beltway Robbery. (Pianowski)

Arian Foster, Hou, RB - Pianowski RB rank No. 17 (-5)

Injuries have come with the territory with Foster in recent years; he missed half of last year and a chunk of 2011. And while anyone can get hurt in the NFL (especially at running back), I'm already concerned about his current hamstring injury. Foster's been absent for just about all of Houston's training camp.

Foster's yards after contact took a notable dip last year, and the Texans no longer have an elite offensive line to clear his path. Some expect new head coach Bill O'Brien to magically fix everything in Houston, but when's the last time a Bill Belichick disciple took the NFL by storm as a head coach? If you add up the NFL records of Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels, you get an underwhelming 71-119 (38 percent).

A dinged Foster tied to a mediocre offense (Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't move the needle) and poor run-blocking group? I'll sit this one out. I never say never, but I'm virtually positive Foster will not be on any of my fake rosters this year - heck, I'm not all that sure Foster is especially motivated to play football these days. Read his public comments, you decide for yourself. (Pianowski)

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