Eddie Lacy didn’t become Green Bay’s full-time back until Week 4 last season, and over the final 13 games, he totaled 1,382 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. That’s a season’s pace of 1,701 yards and 12 scores. Aaron Rodgers missed more than half of those 13 games (essentially eight), so it’s safe to assume Lacy’s scoring opportunities will be greater with a healthy Rodgers in 2014. Lacy’s 4.1 YPC doesn’t standout, but his 56 broken tackles were the fourth-most in the NFL (one behind LeSean McCoy), leading to a healthy 2.3 YPC after contact. According to Pro Football Focus, Lacy was the fourth-best blocking back in the NFL, so there’s no reason to ever take him off the field, and the Packers plan on running a more uptempo offense this season. Defenses can dramatically change from year-to-year, but on paper, it sure looks beneficial to play the Bears, Lions and Vikings during 37.5 percent of the schedule. If Lacy were to suffer an injury, it’s also nice to have a clear cut backup in James Starks, who’s good in his own right (when not hurt) and is routinely available late in drafts. Lacy now gets a full offseason to grasp the pro system and better prepare himself for the rigors of the NFL (unlike last year), as he did all that damage as a rookie and often playing beat up. Lacy is a beast who will benefit from playing in one of the league’s best offenses and is a serious threat to lead the league in touchdowns. I have him ranked as the No. 3 overall player on my board, ahead of Adrian Peterson.
Here’s a CFL highlight of a player scoring a touchdown on a 129-yard return on a missed field goal, and here’s another TD involving an onside punt.
Ryan Mathews has burned many fantasy owners (including me) in the past, but there really is a lot to like entering 2014. Of course, there are some negatives, as San Diego brought in Donald Brown during the offseason to go along with Danny Woodhead, and Mathews himself has referred to the team’s backfield as a “three-headed monster.” Moreover, he lost a fumble at the goal line during the Chargers’ first preseason game, which is a concern considering he had 10 fumbles over his first two seasons in the league (over just 26 games), although he’s since mostly corrected the problem, having put the ball on the carpet just twice over his last 25 contests. San Diego’s offense improved immensely once Mike McCoy took over as head coach, and he referred to Mathews as the team’s “bellcow” even after the back lost the recent fumble. He’s just now entering his prime at age 26 and led all backs in fantasy points per snap last season in standard formats, finishing only behind Jamaal Charles in PPR leagues. Mathews comes with a checkered injury history, but it’s rare you’ll find a running back who totaled 898 yards and five touchdowns over the final eight games of the prior season with an ADP of 37.4 and getting drafted as the RB17, especially with so many committees these days. He’d be a massive steal in the fourth round.
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There’s an obvious big-three when it comes to quarterbacks, but I’d argue there’s very little difference among the next dozen options. Everyone has their preferences (I personally have Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick higher than most and Matthew Stafford lower than most), but I could look at these QBs arranged in pretty much any way and not quibble at all. There’s really a solid top-12 almost universally ranked, and then the next three among my aforementioned dozen being Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers, all of whom I’d have zero problem with as my starter. Cutler, especially, could go crazy in Marc Trestman’s offense with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at his disposal while having to throw a ton to compensate for a defense that was truly atrocious last season. Remember, the Bears scored the second most points last year with journeyman Josh McCown (who entered the season 34 years old and with a career 6.3 YPA mark and a 37:44 TD:INT ratio) starting five games and appearing in eight. And Jeffery should only get better during his third year in the league. Cutler could easily be a top-five fantasy QB, and he’s currently being drafted in the middle of round No. 11.
I wouldn’t even panic if I missed out on the aforementioned top-15 quarterbacks (it’s becoming more apparent that adding a flex with QB as an option is the optimal format these days), as I’d also be content with Ben Roethlisberger as my starter. Over his final seven games last year, he posted a 15:4 TD:INT ratio (with a rushing score added in) while taking just seven sacks (he took 35 sacks over the previous nine games). It took a while, but it sure seems like Big Ben’s relationship with OC Todd Haley is finally resulting in some nice production on the field, and continuity can be underrated (Haley returns in 2014). The loss of Emmanuel Sanders should be offset by a developing Markus Wheaton, and Heath Miller reportedly looks much stronger now further removed from knee surgery. Lance Moore and rookie Martavis Bryant have also been added into the mix. Le’Veon Bell is dangerous as a pass catcher out of the backfield, and while Pittsburgh’s offensive line looks improved, its defense could be shaky, which is a nice recipe for passing success (make of this what you will, but the Steelers’ schedule looks favorable as well). Bottom line, with so many options at quarterback, why would you ever bother even thinking of taking one before rounds 7-10? Not only are there solid options if you wait beyond that, but predicting who will be best among Nick Foles, Robert Griffin, Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck sure seems like a fool’s errand to me.
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According to ADP and ECR, I’m apparently way down on Larry Fitzgerald, whom I currently have as my WR24. I’ll probably look foolish since he admittedly has a nice floor, but Fitz is 31 years old and has averaged just 876.0 receiving yards over the past two seasons while playing in all 32 games. Of course, he scored 10 touchdowns last year, but Michael Floyd’s continued development could mean fewer targets for Fitzgerald, whom Pro Football Focus graded as just the No. 25 wide receiver last year in the receiving department (he was great as a blocker and not committing penalties), one spot behind Julio Jones, who played 722 fewer snaps! Fitzgerald dropped just one pass all season, but while Carson Palmer is no Hall Of Famer, it was disappointing Fitzgerald couldn’t even break 1,000 yards after finally having a competent QB throwing to him. Over the last two seasons, Fitzgerald has gotten a paltry 6.0 yards-per-target. I’m in no way writing him off – I still have Fitz as a top-25 fantasy WR – but there’s a tier above him with more upside in which I’d rather gamble on that includes Michael Floyd, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jeremy Maclin, Torrey Smith and T.Y. Hilton (this is another tier I don’t feel strongly about differentiating at all).
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Quick Hits: According to RotoWire, Wes Welker led the NFL with nine targets inside the five-yard line last season, and he missed three games (and he’s 5-9, 185). He’ll also now be playing without Eric Decker, who had the second-most targets inside the five-yard line last season…Victor Cruz saw 46.2 percent of his team’s red-zone targets, more than 5.0 percent more than any other WR in football…Cam Newton easily led all QBs with 18 carries inside the red zone, but Nick Foles had more rushing attempts than him at the goal line. So did Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led all signal callers with four carries at the GL…Jamaal Charles was targeted inside the five-yard line as many times (four) as Jimmy Graham…Matt Forte, who once had a 3-for-33 three-year stretch converting goal-line scores, had 91.3 percent of the Bears’ rushing attempts inside the red zone. The next highest back was Zac Stacy at 83.3 percent…PFF graded Ray Rice as by far the worst running back in the league last year, scoring negative grades for running, receiving, blocking and in penalties. Rice’s 1.5 YPC after contact was also the lowest in the NFL. He’s still just 27 years old and will almost certainly play better this season, but the diminutive back totaled 715 carries over his final two years in college, so his workload is much heavier than his NFL career suggests. He’s suspended the first two games of the year, and it’s not out of the question Bernard Pierce is a better fit for Baltimore’s new zone-blocking scheme. I’d let someone else draft Rice this year. I’d say the same about Chris Johnson as well.