Seasons change quickly and so do the opinions of fantasy owners.
A player once thought of as a “star in the making” one year, can
be a complete non-factor on draft day the next season.
Case in point, Denver running back Montee
Ball. In August 2014, just before last season began, fantasy
owners were infatuated with Ball’s potential. He was the heir-apparent
to Knowshon Moreno who had run ragged over the league the previous
season (1,038 yards rushing, 548 yards receiving, 13 TDs). Now,
with Moreno in Miami after signing a big free-agent deal, Ball
was the guy voted “most likely” to take over his role. His ADP
was 13.0 – an early second-round selection.
If only things were that simple. Life threw Ball and his fantasy
backers a “curve ball.” An offseason appendectomy and a severe
groin injury left Ball watching from the sidelines as first Ronnie
Hillman and then C.J.
Anderson played well as his replacement. Anderson produced
so well, in fact, that even when Ball recovered from the injuries,
he couldn't win back his starting job.
A year later, many think Ball will be left off the final 53-man
Ball isn't the only top selection from 2014 who isn't a factor
in 2015. In fact, 10 players with an ADP of 60-or-better (meaning
they were a top-five draft choice in a standard 12-team league
a season ago), can't crack the top-200 in 2015.
I would barely consider two of them, Harvin and Johnson, worthy
of even a last-round flier.
The loss of 10 picks doesn't mean this season's fantasy options
are thin. There are plenty of “new” faces ready to take their
place. Checking the most recent ADP rankings shows 13 names that
weren't in the top-200 last season who are currently being selected
in the first five rounds.
The list includes six rookies and seven veterans.
Let's evaluate the newcomers.
Gordon, San Diego (ADP 37.2) – He's likely to be inconsistent.
In fact, please make that the first line for all six of the rookies
under discussion. Gordon is talented and should be the early-down
back, but the return of Danny
Woodhead is going to limit Gordon's fantasy value. You only
have to remember how good Woodhead was in 2013 when he grabbed
76 passes for 605 yards and rushed for 429 yards.
Abdullah, Detroit (41.5) – The rookie out of Nebraska
could supplant Joique
Bell as the starter very quickly, but the Lions backfield
currently appears to be a “by committee” situation as we start
the season because undrafted-free agent Zach
Zenner has also earned playing time. There has been a lot
of media hype surrounding Abdullah which has resulted in him being
drafted a bit too high.
Cooper, Oakland (42.6) – Cooper was thought of as the
most “NFL-ready” wideout coming out of college and has done nothing
in training camp or the preseason to make fantasy owners change
that opinion. He should lead the Raiders in targets, catches and
receiving yards. Think Kelvin
Gurley, St. Louis (53.4) – He's the most talented rookie
running back in the draft class, but coming off an ACL injury
fantasy owners can't expect him to be a factor for the first half
of the season. He could end up posting a Jeremy
Hill-type second half if all goes perfect. He's a top-20 option
in dynasty drafts, but re-draft owners will have to load up on
running backs to cover his likely early-season non-production.
Yeldon, Jacksonville (59.6) – Another talented rookie
who is an every down back, but a suspect Jaguars' offensive line
should limit fantasy expectations. Alabama running backs are used
to seeing gaping holes in the line, but that won't happen in his
first NFL season. Hopefully, he's more Eddie
Lacy than Trent
Agholor, Philadelphia (59.9) – Agholor is in the perfect
situation to succeed. He's replacing Jeremy
Maclin, who posted career numbers in the same role last season
despite suspect quarterbacking. He's looked great in preseason
and if Sam
Bradford can stay healthy, a big if considering the past two
seasons, Agholor could end up with the best fantasy totals and
the best value of this 2015 rookie class.
Anderson, Denver (8.6) – Didn't we feel just as good
about Ball last season? Yes, Anderson put together a very good
second half of the season a year ago, but he was featured over
an injured Peyton
Manning. If Manning is healthy, the Broncos will still pass
the ball with the best of them. Be excited about Ball's potential,
just not first-round excited.
Beckham Jr., New York Giants (13.9) – On the other
hand, Beckham is as good as it gets and fantasy owners should
be very excited to put him in their starting lineup. With Victor
Cruz's comeback still up in the air, there is no reason Beckham
can't duplicate last season's fantasy totals.
Forsett, Baltimore (20.1) – Forsett exploded onto the
scene in 2014 (1,266 yards rushing, 263 yards receiving, 8 TDs)
and could be a better fantasy value in 2015 under new Ravens OC
Marc Trestman. Trestman's running backs have averaged 72 catches
for 597 yards over 12 NFL seasons dating back to 1988.
Murray, Oakland (31.0) – We were 12 games into the
2014 season before Murray got a chance to show his abilities.
Considering Oakland's options were Darren
McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew we wonder why it took so long.
He'll be running behind a below-average offensive line, so temper
your enthusiasm, but his explosive speed will generate some big
games. Producing third-round value, however, may prove to be difficult
for a team frequently behind on the scoreboard.
Adams, Green Bay (35.2) – Adams thrived in his role
as No. 3 receiver on a team with the best quarterback in the league.
Nelson's season-ending injury, Adams figures to dramatically
improve on last season's 38-catch, 446-yard, three touchdown production
and third-round value should be easily attainable.
Randle, Dallas (38.2) - It's the classic “which came
first” argument … the chicken or the egg? Did DeMarco Murray put
together a monster season because of his elite offensive line
or did the line look good because Murray is such a good runner?
Randle owners hope it's the former as he'll get the first opportunity
to run behind the line in 2015. Rumors have this as an RBBC situation
(with McFadden and Lance
Dunbar), but if Randle can produce anywhere near the 6.7 ypc
from last season or the 5.5 ypc he averaged in college at Oklahoma
State, he will have the job all to himself and be a fantasy stud.
Landry, Miami (50.1) – Beckham wasn't the only LSU
rookie receiver to perform well last season. Landry posted 84
receptions for 758 yards and five touchdowns. We need significant
improvement in finding the end zone from Landry this season if
he's going to surpass 2014. Unfortunately, the Dolphins went to
great lengths to improve their receiving corps, adding Kenny
Jennings, rookie DeVante
Parker and tight end Jordan
Cameron. This could be a balanced receiving group and we aren't
sure Landry can exceed last season's totals.
Steve Schwarz served as the fantasy sports editor of The Sports Network and is the 2014 FSWA Football Writer of the Year.