As fantasy analysts, our job is to survey the fantasy football landscape with level-headed reason and logic. But sometimes we can't help but get a little starry-eyed at the prospects of certain players, letting our man-crushes push our heads into the clouds. With that in mind, we asked the members of the Yahoo crew to explain their positions on players that they've moved out ahead of the preseason ranking consensus - or as we're calling it, players we love more than you. I'll get things started with a couple NFC South objects of my desire:
Mike Evans, WR, TB - A behemoth target (6-foot-5, 230) with outstanding jump ball skills, Evans can make even the shakiest of quarterbacks look good. He finished as the No. 11 fantasy WR last season despite a two-headed QB monster of Mike Glennon and Josh McCown. This season, Evans will get a boost at QB in rookie Jameis Winston, who comes from a pro-style offense (FSU) and easily was the best pure thrower in the draft. Evans also gets an upgrade in offensive role, as Dirk Koetter (OC in Atlanta from '12-'14) takes over. Evans will play the role that was Julio Jones' in Atlanta, one that led to the third-most targets (163) in the league last season.
Evans complained that his QBs would look him off too much last season, saying, "... I didn't understand, because I always think I'm open. Just throw that thing up." He won't have to worry about that this season as Winston brings a rep for often forcing throws. But with Evans on the receiving end, there's a strong case for the "just throw that thing up" option. Go back and watch the highlights of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M - he rode Evans' skyscraping talents to the NFL's first round.
Evans is going off the board, on average, as the No. 12 receiver in fantasy drafts. But he was better than that last season, and it's hard to believe that his situation isn't better in '15. I'm taking him inside my WR top 10, and inside the top two rounds of my fantasy drafts.
C.J. Spiller, RB, NO - Here's a fact to chew on while thinking about Spiller's value: The Saints have led the league in RB receptions in seven of the nine years that Sean Payton has been head coach, and the the other two seasons resulted in second and third place finishes in that category. With Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson mostly non-factors in the passing game, there is a huge opportunity for Spiller - think 75-plus catches, a total past Saints like Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas all reached at least once in their time in New Orleans. Spiller was ill-equipped for the featured back role in the rugged AFC East. But, in a return to his Southern roots, on the New Orleans fast track, in a receiving back role on steroids, Spiller should remind us why he was once a top 10 overall NFL draft pick ('10).
Scott Pianowski loves ...
Jeremy Maclin, WR, KC - Maclin is one of my favorites types of players, the Overcorrection Discount. Everyone knows how awful the KC passing game was last year - egads, no wide receiver touchdowns - and there’s also a fear when receivers shift teams. But here’s the thing: Maclin was better than the scrubs the Chiefs used at wideout last year, and he has less change-team risk since he’s already built up familiarity with Andy Reid. Some teams will be lucky enough to land Maclin as their third or maybe even fourth wideout, and that’s a strong play. Remember, this game is all about leveraging a marketplace.
Anquan Boldin, WR, SF - Ah, the old Ibanez All-Star - a boring but reliable veteran. When’s the last time Boldin didn’t return what you paid for him? He’s ranked 22nd, 15th and 29th in basic scoring the last three years, and I’m sure you didn’t have to pay for that at the table. Sure, he’s into his age-35 season, that worries you, but given what Boldin’s shown during his career with preparation and work ethic, I’m willing to bet on him cheating Father Time for another year. I’m also excited about the Niners planning to run a quicker offense in 2015 - the more they change things from last season’s train wreck, the happier I am.
Andy Behrens loves ...
Eli Manning, QB, NYG - Here we have a quarterback coming off a 4,400-yard, 30-touchdown season, tied to one of the most ludicrously talented young receivers in the league, and he's available in Round 9 in an average Yahoo draft? Yeah, OK, I'll take it. Honestly, I have no idea why you guys aren't selecting Eli as a top-8 fantasy QB. His setup for 2015 is near perfect, and he's working with an outstanding receiving corps (enhanced via free agency by Shane Vereen). Eli never misses games, so there's no injury red flag here. I'd much rather have him at his current ADP (83.2) than Peyton at his (34.5).
Josh Hill, TE, NO
- To be clear, I am certainly not suggesting that Josh Hill can deliver Jimmy Graham-ish numbers for the Saints in 2015. Nobody is projecting a 1,200-yard, 16-TD campaign. But we should note that Hill is a gifted athlete (if not at Graham's level), and his role is unquestionably going to expand in the year ahead. New Orleans has always had a spin-the-wheel offense, but this team will again put the ball in the air 600-plus times, so Hill won't lack for targets. If you can't see the potential for 8-10 touchdowns here, then you aren't looking hard enough. He finished with five spikes last season, despite limited usage. When I miss on Gronk, Graham and Greg Olsen in the early rounds, I'm happy to wait until the end-game to select Hill.
Brad Evans loves ...
Andre Ellington, RB, Ari - On the Rodney Dangerfield All-Stars, Ellington is undeniably the MDP (Most Dissed Player). Drafters who continuously pass him up for hotshots like C.J. Spiller or T.J. Yeldon are missing the boat. Yes, his superficial numbers, especially his 3.28 yards per carry, from last year were hideous, but the dude played 12 games with a very painful split tendon in his foot. The fact that he cowboyed up every week was a testament to his toughness. Despite the setback he was still highly employable in all formats, particularly PPR. On 20.6 touches per game, he averaged 87.9 total yards per contest and crossed the chalk five times. His resulting 11.3 fantasy points per game ranked No. 14 in standard formats. Even better, he was the 10th-best RB in PPR. And a sizable chunk of that was accomplished sans Carson Palmer. That alone is worth much applause.
People quickly forget how good Ellington was his rookie season. He ranked at or near the top in several secondary categories including breakaway percentage (RB1), elusive rating (RB5) and yards per route run (RB10). His 5.52 yards per carry, which set the pace among all RBs in 2013, and 57.1 yards after contact percentage were equally sensational. And he did that working behind a shoddy offensive line (No. 26 in run-blocking per Pro Football Focus), one that will be much improved this year. David Johnson will push him, but I'm banking on a 70-30 split in the incumbent's favor and a RB top-15 finish.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jac - Fantasy serviceability and Jacksonville wide receivers historically do not go hand-in-hand. The last Jaguars wideout to finish inside the WR top-20 in total points was Jimmy Smith in 2005. Ten years ago Robinson was still an 11-year-old prepubescent who probably played Madden on Sega's Dreamcast. That trend of futility, however, may soon change. His environment is very appealing. He’s an oversized target, off an occasionally exciting rookie year, who could tuck inside the WR top-15 in targets. Cash burner, Justin Blackmon, is no longer on the team, Marqise Lee is already dealing with an injury and Allen Hurns is best suited for No. 2 work.
That leaves Robinson, a tacky-handed 6-foot-3, 210-pound wideout, at the head of the Jags’ WR class. Last year, he quickly developed into Blake Bortles’ main man. Before a broken foot prematurely ended his season in Week 11, he snagged 48-of-49 catchable balls and ranked No. 32 in PPR settings from Weeks 2-10. Reportedly unstoppable in OTAs, particularly on red-zone drills, he has 70-1100-7 upside. Yes, even with Julius Thomas in tow.
Dalton Del Don loves ...
Joseph Randle, RB, Dal - There’s obviously risk regarding a player with such a small track record (105 career rushing attempts) without much of a pedigree (he was a fifth-round pick). But Randle got 6.7 YPC last season (when he ran for 10+ yards on an NFL-best 10% of his carries) and will get the first crack at inheriting one of the best roles in the NFL – running behind Dallas’ dominant offensive line, which helped DeMarco Murray total 2,261 yards last season. Murray is now in Philadelphia, and Randle’s biggest competition appears to be Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar, so it’s safe to say he’ll be given every opportunity to be the lead ballcarrier for the Cowboys. It’s unclear if he’s up to the task, but that’s why his current ADP in Yahoo is 83.4 (83.4? Really?), and his situation gives him the upside to finish as a top-10 player.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buf - The Bills have a shaky quarterback situation and project to be one of the more run heavy teams in the NFL. They also added Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy during the offseason. Still, Buffalo gave up a boatload of picks to draft Watkins No. 4 overall last season, so the franchise certainly has incentive to see him succeed, and the wideout just recently turned 22 years old. For what it’s worth, Watkins had more broken tackles during his rookie season than Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Jeremy Maclin, DeAndre Hopkins, Alshon Jeffery and T.Y. Hilton. It’s easy to make excuses, but Watkins played through broken ribs, a groin injury and later a labral tear in his hip that required offseason surgery, so it’s safe to say he wasn’t exactly performing at 100% (although it was impressive that he managed not to miss a single game despite these ailments). Just because Watkins’ rookie year didn’t live up to the hype doesn’t mean he can’t reach it in Year 2.