Place your ear to the grapevine this time of year and chances are you’re bound to hear stories of despair, mediocrity and, of course, excessive hype …
This group of draft prospects is RISING. That group is FALLING. Everyone in this class is destined to overachieve/underachieve.
The wild speculation, whether positive or negative, is seemingly endless. Sonny Weaver, the fictional general manager of the Cleveland Browns in ‘Draft Day,’ would certainly agree. Just look at the insane rumors regarding former Pitt QB Tom Savage and Drake's brother from another mother Johnny Manziel.
Smokescreens or not, fantasy owners, who function similarly as GMs over fledgling virtual franchises, face identical dilemmas. Receive poor intel and you’re likely headed to an early grave filled with constant ridicule and liquid therapy. However, buy into rock solid intel, and jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash aren’t a figment of the imagination, they’re reality.
We may be months away from meaningful football, but the buzz surrounding a number of players is rapidly building. To ensure you don’t fall into a Ryan Leaf deathtrap, here’s my take on seven commodities sure to be sensationalized in fantasy drafts come August:
Cordarrelle Patterson, Min, WR (Current ADP: 51.5, WR22)
The Buzz: Under the direction of vertical-minded Norv Turner, CP is sure to take a major leap forward possibly topping out as a high-end WR2 in 12-team leagues.
Believe or make believe? BELIEVE. Slow out of the gates in his rookie season, Patterson turned on the afterburners from Week 13 on as then OC Bill Musgrave finally pulled head out of posterior, calling the youngster's number often. During that stretch he totaled 375 combined yards and six touchdowns. His resulting 14.7 fantasy points per game average in standard formats ranked top-five among wideouts and carried owners to championship glory. Because of his route rawness, much of that production came on the ground, in the return game or on designed wide receiver screens. On 11 targets beyond 22-yards he caught just one pass and only one of his TDs was scored beyond 10 yards. In his second season, he should add some polish becoming a more complete WR. With Norval calling the shots, he could transform into a poor man's Josh Gordon.
Bottom Line: Patterson's length, catch radius, versatility and breakaway speed has Turner's ticker pumping with anticipation. The OC will get very creative with his new toy. However, the $64,000 question remains: Who will pass him the rock this fall? Matt Cassel and burning couch Christian Ponder are back, but it seems highly likely the Vikes will entertain a QB (Manziel anyone?) at No. 8 overall in next month's draft. Regardless who is under center Week 1, Patterson should vault up draft boards as the summer progresses. In 12-team drafts, snapping tendons for his services early in Round 3 wouldn't be moronic.
Giovani Bernard, Cin, RB (Current ADP: 15.3, RB10)
Believe or make believe? BELIEVE. In his first season, Bernard lived up to the promise shown on tape at North Carolina. He displayed tacky hands, ankle-breaking shiftiness, grit and explosiveness on 226 touches. His subsequent 1,209 total yards (5.35 yards per touch) and eight touchdowns captivated Fantasyland at times, landing him inside the position's top-20 on a per game basis. Most importantly for his sustainability as a near every-down RB, coaches have praised his work ethic and blitz pick-up. Last year according to Pro Football Focus, he ranked No. 4 in pass-blocking among RBs. The kid is complete.
Bottom Line: According to Bernard, Jackson's retooled offense will be 'crazy,' filled with schemes and permutations previously unseen by the Bengals faithful. Excellente. When Hue was head honcho of the Raiders in 2011, Oakland boasted the fifth-most valuable backfield in all of fantasy. BenJarvus Slow-Ellis will continue to lumber his way for 3-yard gains on occasion, but it's becoming increasingly clear Gio will be the primary carrier, likely netting upwards of 18-20 touches per game. With an above average pass attack spearheaded by Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Marvin Jones and top-12 offensive line, the UNC product is one cat worth feeding Friskies to in Round 2. It would be no shock this time next year, he's in the top-10 overall conversation, particularly in PPR formats.
Nick Foles, Phi, QB (Current ADP: 58.6, QB6)
The Buzz: Coming off a surprisingly spectacular sophomore campaign, Foles has most owners all-in on a top-10 or possibly top-five followup.
Believe or make believe? MAKE BELIEVE. What Foles accomplished last season was nothing short of remarkable. When Michael Vick was felled by a predictable hamstring injury Week 5, the lanky QB seized the moment. From that point on, he resembled Dan Marino circa '83, totaling a 30:2 (three rush TDs) TD:INT split while tallying 3,067 combined yards. His 23.3 fantasy points per game over that span was second only to Peyton Manning (25.8), who posted historic numbers. Whether under pressure, on play action or with time in the pocket, he excelled. His 119.2 QB rating, 9.12 yards per attempt and 64.0 completion percentage aroused many, elevating expectations in Year 3 to astronomical heights.
Bottom Line: Chip Kelly's fast-paced, high-octane offense is a selling point. The system's cadence and Foles' overall comfort level within it favors another strong season. However, sans DeSean Jackson, who accounted for a large chunk of the passing offense in '13 (82-1332-9), there are questions at wide receiver. Can Jeremy Maclin's tendons stay intact? Is Riley Cooper capable of being a No. 1? Is there a rookie WR outside Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans that could make an instant impact in Philly if drafted? Will Zac Ertz and Darren Sproles pick up the slack? ... Foles' achievements last year were legendary, but it's highly unlikely he can replicate that success. He'll often be the fifth or sixth passer off draft boards this summer, but in Round 5 of 12-team drafts Andrew Luck or Matthew Stafford are more attractive options. Don't pay the premium.
Andre Ellington, Ari, RB (Current ADP: 30.3, RB16)
The Buzz: Rashard Mendenhall's retirement and leanings from Bruce Arians suggest the explosive rusher will see a significant uptick in touches.
Believe or make believe? BELIEVE. When prompted by beat writers and reporters about Ellington's light workload Arians remained steadfast in his belief the then rookie's delicate frame couldn't handle the rigors of 20 touches per game. At 5-foot-8, 199-pounds, he's definitely more Jamaal Charles than Eddie Lacy. Nimble, shifty and nearly uncatchable in the open-field, he is everything David Wilson was supposed to be in New York. Astonishingly, 312 of his 652 rushing yards were gained on runs of 15 or more yards last year, the highest percentage (47.9) among RBs with at least 100 attempts. The man has bottle rockets strapped to his shoes. He also posted the fifth-highest elusive rating among RBs according to PFF. Plus, he was also highly useful in the pass game hauling in 39 receptions for 371 yards.
Bottom Line: Arians stated in March he plans to remove Ellington from short-yardage situations, including goal-line work. That obviously stunts his TD production, but given his breakaway nature, 6-8 end-zone dives are attainable. Most tantalizingly, the head coach expressed his desire to "build the offense around" his young back. Because Arizona will continue to be a pass-first, pass-often team, 20-carry games will be virtually nonexistent for Ellington. Still, he should grip the pigskin roughly 15-18 times per game totaling around 1,400 yards and 50 catches, even behind a work-in-progress offensive line and playing in a hellish division. He'll be a solid buy in Round 3, particularly for PPR players.
Montee Ball, Den, RB (Current ADP: 14.9, RB9)
The Buzz: With Knowshon Moreno now sloughing it on South Beach, Ball will enter training camp as the projected workhorse in the NFL's deadliest offense.
Believe or make believe? BELIEVE. Ball's pro career started off a bit rocky. Last August, he fell short in his quest to become Denver's starting RB, losing out to the veteran Moreno in training camp. A couple fumbles accompanied with poor pass-blocking early on only dug the hole deeper. However, as most rookies do, Ball improved as the season dragged on. On his final 151 touches, including the playoffs, he didn't cough up the pill once. More surprisingly, according to PFF's metrics, he actually outperformed Moreno in blitz pick-up, ranking just above the league average. Overall, he compiled an impressive 4.66 yards per carry gaining 54.7 percent of his yards after initial contact. Equally solid in the pass game, he occasionally flashed the Terrell Davis-like upside John Elway described after last April's draft (e.g. Week 13 at KC, 13-117-0).
Bottom Line: Unless a witch casts a crippling spell on Ball's lower extremities, he's bound to deliver top-flight numbers. With Peyton Manning coming off a record-setting campaign and Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders slated to stretch the field, soft defensive fronts will be commonplace. Add that to an expected rigorous workload (Moreno averaged 18.8 touches/game last year), and a top-five season is well within reach. Some owners will scoff at selecting Ball in the late-first or early-second rounds, but everything is in place for him to deliver on the heightened expectations. Roughly 1,500 total yards and 11-13 TDs are in my fearless forecast. Reach with confidence.
Ben Tate, Cle, RB (Current ADP: 34.0, RB18)
The Buzz: Out from underneath Arian Foster's shadow, Tate re-teamed with former OC Kyle Shanahan and is slated to start Week 1 for the Browns.
Believe or make believe? MAKE BELIEVE. Since entering the league in 2010, Tate has sporadically exhibited every-down potential. His quick first cut, bulky frame and hard-charging downhill style sync beautifully with Junior Shany's zone-blocking scheme. Dodgy at times, he forces numerous missed tackles, evident in the 41 defender whiffs he enticed last year, the seventh-most among RBs. During his tenure in Houston, he averaged a standout 4.73 yards per carry and contributed meaningful numbers in the pass game, topping out at 34 receptions for 140 yards last year. Though he's only been productive in spurts, he certainly possesses considerable RB2 upside.
Bottom Line: Unfortunately, the man is made of matchsticks. He missed 24 games over first four seasons. Because of the nagging injuries, he's underwhelmed even in favorable situations. For example, last fall with Foster sidelined, he managed just 71.1 total yards per game, 4.0 yards per carry and three touchdowns in seven starts. Granted he wasn't close to 100-percent in several of those contests, but the endless nicks and scrapes scream 'buyer beware.' Combine that with Cleveland's questions at QB and sketchy offensive line, which may need time to gel given the new system, and owners who draft Tate too early could tempt fate. There's 1,300-yard, 8-10 TD upside here, but in all likelihood injuries and occasional ineptitude will stain the rusher's overall fantasy value.
Jordan Reed, Was, TE (Current ADP: 74.3, TE7)
The Buzz: Assuming his concussion issues are in the past (hopefully), the sophomore tight end is expected to be a focal point in a revamped Redskins offense.
Believe or make believe? BELIEVE. Exuding a strong worth ethic and admiring attitude, Reed, as a rookie, was everything Fred Davis wasn't, which resulted in a quick ascension on the depth chart. Like many tight ends in this day and age, he's a sensational combination of size and athleticism. His sharp footwork, reliable hands and smooth routes are also plus qualities. Targeted 60 times last year, he hauled in 45 receptions, netting an eye-opening 75.0 catch percentage. Most impressive, his 2.19 yards per route run ranked third behind Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. More specific to fantasy purposes, he was the seventh-best TE in per game average from Weeks 1-10 – borderline studly.
Bottom Line: Washington's new-look offense under Jay Gruden should benefit Reed greatly. Recall last year with Gruden calling the shots in Cincinnati, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert were targeted 128 times. Yes, Logan Paulsen will also be involved, but 90-plus looks, many of those coming inside the red zone, are completely possible, especially when considering the defensive attention Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are sure to draw. In many instances, the middle will be WIDE open, an area of the field where Reed typically conducts business. If RGIII can quickly bury last year's demons, the second-year TE could be in line for a 75-950-7 season, production that would surely vault him inside the position's top-five.
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