At your average on-site and remote fantasy football drafts, technology has heightened the level of competition to where most fantasy GMs have brought together
This Sweet 16 could help you win multiple fantasy championships this season and – if in dynasty – years to come. (Draft projections are based on a 10-team, standard-scoring league)
FIVE PRIME PLAYERS UNDER THE RADAR
1. Titans RB Chris Johnson (Round 2, but possibly slipping to Round 3 or 4 in some drafts)
The Tennessee regime has made no secret that this new Dowell Loggains offense is a run-first one. They added pretty much 3 of the 20 best-available run blockers between the draft and free agency (C Brian Schwenke, RG Chance Warmack, LG Andy Levitre). The reason I include Chris on this list is because in fantasy football, fantasy GMs often give up on players. I’d keep him in mind late-2nd and especially early-3rd as he gets passed up by (a) other owners whose seasons CJ has sabotaged before and (b) owners adding QBs early.
The recommendation comes with four words of caution: JAKE LOCKER, SHONN GREENE. There’s no telling how often the Titans will have TD opportunities, and it’s hard to forecast how many red zone carries will go to Shonn Greene. The reason I put Johnson at #1 is because the atmosphere is perfect for him to have huge runs. He only ran for 14 TDs in his monster 2009 season.
What will eally put Johnson through the roof is quarterback Jake Locker turning the corner with a healthy Kenny Britt and a healthy Randy Moss-like Justin Hunter. Last year, Kendall Wright only eclipsed the 48-yard mark three times, twice it was with Hass throwing him the ball. The trio is the most explosive in the AFC South (an AFC South that added my #1 WR from this year’s draft, DeAndre Hopkins, and also added underrated Darrius Heyward-Bey).
2. Broncos RB Montee Ball (Round 3 but rising; Must follow in preseason)
Peyton Manning would like to throw every down (except in the cold?). The Sheriff’s 589 attempts last season were the 3rd most among his 14 seasons as a starter.
He has a steely, 5’10″/214 lb. reason to want to run it in the red zone, and thus improve future passing match-ups in that condensed area. Ball scored 83 TDs from scrimmage at Wisconsin, including 33 on the ground in 2011 alone.
The Broncos, by adding Wes Welker and Tavarres King (#1 among seniors in this year’s draft in YPC), have the best WR corps in the NFL. With Manning’s arm strength improving this off-season, the scoring opportunities are going to be absurd.
3. Saints TE Jimmy Graham (late Round 2)
With the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski’s health, along with the possibility that Hernandez will continue to see his role expand (UPDATE: No role at all for Hernandez), along with Miami and the New York Jets improving leaps and bounds on defense, Jimmy Graham is my #1 overall tight end.
In a dream scenario, I can get two RBs I love – say, LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore – in rounds 1 and 2, and get Jimmy Graham in round 3. Honestly, if I’m picking anywhere between 17 and 19, I would definitely select Graham in the late 2nd. I’d even consider him before that. The fact is, at no other position can you insulate yourself with a double-move like this. First and foremost, you get a TE with WR production. Secondly, you narrow it down to where you win your tight end match-up likely every week except possibly when you face someone who has Gronk, Davis, Witten, or Gonzalez (with Whisenhunt hired as Chargers OC, I’m not considering Gates as a part of this tier, though he’s still worth taking in the 5th). So, essentially, by selecting Graham, you obliterate 20% of the opposing TE slots to worry about.
4. Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (Round 4, but in expert leagues worth taking mid-to-late 3rd even if you’ve already taken a RB)
With a rookie QB who had been a WR up until a few years prior, the Dolphins averaged 4.1 ypc (Miller averaged 4.9). That was with scant receiving prowess. Adding the likes of Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller changes all that. I’m also a big fan of the offensive playbook in Miami, by schemers Mike Sherman and Joe Philbin.
5. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (Round 5 or 6, maybe even late round 4)
One of the surprises of the NFL’s top 100 is that – despite no Cowboys apparently voting – Dez was voted #35 by NFL players. His beastly nature has been cooped up because – until this year – the Cowboys haven’t had an adequate offensive line. Miles Austin has been slowed by injuries, Dwayne Harris has still been learning.
It feels like Bryant is going to be knighted a gridiron gladiator hero, so long as Callahan and Romo are on the same page, because Jason Witten, Dwayne Harris, Miles Austin, Terrence Williams, Cole Beasley will all improve his match-ups.
Bryant shattered expectations last year (1382 yards, 12 TD), is facing rebuilding and shaky secondaries in the NFC East, so he’ll likely exceed most fans’ expectations this season.
ELEVEN MORE TO WATCH
6. Eagles RB Bryce Brown (Round 9)
I try to avoid drafting more than 1 guy out of a platoon. This is why – in most 10-team leagues – I aim for BPA but want to take at minimum 2 RBs with my first 3 selections.
The Oregon offense averaged .4 more yards-per-carry than any other FBS school last season, and it had 1 more rushing TD than any other team did.
7. Raiders WR Denarious Moore (Round 10)
Oakland may end up being a volume passing team. A trend in fantasy drafts is guys taking the 3rd and 4th WRs on teams that pass a lot. If Moore is on the board and you select Jordy Nelson, Joe Morgan or Darrius Heyward-Bey instead…that could be the difference between winning or losing several fantasy match-ups.
If you want to stay ahead of the curve, understand that 2013 is the breakout year for Randall Cobb, Denarious Moore, Torrey Smith, and Danny Amendola. All four are locks for 1100+ yards and 6 TDs (Cobb scored 9 TDs last season, and he will put up more than Dez Bryant’s projected numbers; He’s gotten even more kudos than Bryant, so I haven’t pegged him as under-the-radar).
8. Ravens D/ST (Round 10)
Look, folks. This defensive line is no joke. The coordinator, Dean Pees, had great success with old defenses, and last year had success with a kind of old, pretty injured defense.
It was in 2011 that the Ravens’ vocal leader at OLB – Terrell Suggs – racked up 14 sacks and 7 forced fumbles and won Defensive Player of the Year. It was that Elvis Dumervil led the NFL. I could go on… Courtney Upshaw was 4th in the SEC in sacks his senior year, 2nd in tackles for loss. Chris Canty started every game at defensive end for the 2011 World Champion New York Giants. He’s reunited with another former Parcells pick from his days on America’s Team, Marcus Spears.
Rookie DT Brandon Williams has the accolades of being a three-time Division II first team All-American, with a resume including 27 sacks and 52.5 tackles for loss. Ravens INT totals have been average the last four seasons (17, 19, 15, 13), but shall be better with the quarterbacks not getting to step into throws.
9. Panthers TE Greg Olsen (Round 10)
Probably one of the most shocking developments in the 2013 NFL Draft was the Panthers passing on what looks like one of the deepest WR class in recent memory. I’m not saying Domenik Hixon, Tedd Ginn, and David Gettis are all slouches. I am saying that a team that should be this effective running the ball should also be using play-action in the red-zone.
If you don’t get a top tier TE (the list of which I’ll get to later), Olsen drops farther than anyone else in Tier 2. He’s great value, and been a consistent producer who I’d take ahead of Antonio Gates (yes, I hate the Whisenhunt offense THAT much!). Gates is coming off the worst season (by 168 yards) that he’s had since becoming a full-time starter, though he did miss one game. Olsen’s most recent campaign was the first one in which he played all 16 games, and he finished with 231 more yards than any prior campaign yielded.
10. Titans QB Jake Locker (late rounds)
If you get an ELITE QB rather than just a good one, you should wait until after my #11 guy. But, if you’re a thrill-seeker, you may end up trying to corner the RB, TE, and WR markets and wait on both your starter AND your back-up. In that scenario, I would take Locker in the late 9th to mid-10th at the latest to ensure you get him.
11. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (Round 10)
Vincent Jackson, lining up on the opposite end of the Buccaneers’ formations, understandably will be one of the top WRs off the board. Don’t forget about this guy, though, as I really like the flexibility they now have if Freeman messes up again. Big frame (6’2″, 204 lbs.), decent top-end speed and verticality, and he makes red zone catches (23 TDs his first 3 seasons; Megatron only caught 21 in his first 3).
10. Lions D/ST (late rounds)
A defense this explosive could wind up with 50 sacks and 6 defensive scores. The sheer speed and power across the defensive line, coupled with 10 games indoors, makes them a great rotational defense/special teams. They are ostensibly getting two players they didn’t have healthy last year in SS Louis Delmas (still might not get him), CB Chris Greenwood, and adding to that DE Jason Jones, CB Darius Slay, DE Israel Idonije, FS Glover Quin and DE Ezekial Ansah. Opposing offensive lines include Chicago (twice), Arizona, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Green Bay (twice, including week 13 which may be your playoff).
13. Panthers D/ST (late rounds)
You don’t go much further under the radar than the Panthers defense, yet I suggest them as a back-up D/ST, not merely because of some favorable match-ups (2 games against Josh Freeman, home game vs. Jets week 15; I believe New York will improve significantly, but there are a lot of young players, a rather mediocre O-line and maybe even a rookie QB). They have a lot of turnovers and sacks on the roster, as well as Ted Ginn on kickoffs.
Rookie DT Kawann Short had 19.5 sacks, 49 tackles for loss, 17 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 INTs at Purdue. Other rookie DT Star Lotulelei, drafted out of Utah, battled through double and triple teams and finished with 10 TFL, 5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles last season. Don’t forget, the Panthers’ ends – age 25 and 27 this season – combined to sack opposing QBs 23.5 times across 2012, while Defensive Rookie of the Year MLB Luke Kuechly had 2 picks and 3 fumble recoveries. Most importantly, they will get their leader back, MLB Jon Beason.
14. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (late rounds)
These last three are basically for leagues with deep benches, and for dynasty leagues. There’s probably a better case to be made that if you miss out on the “slam-dunk” first tier and “solid” second tier of tight ends (Graham, Vernon Davis, Gronkowski, Witten in Tier 1; Gonzalez, Gates, Daniels, Bennett, Finley, Celek in Tier 2) or just want a back-up, Jordan Cameron and Kyle Rudolph are more draftable. Yet…you’ll want to watch the position battle in camp and in preseason contests to see how the snaps are spread out, as Tony Moeaki is still slotted to be the starter and Anthony Fasano has been added.
Kelce – hampered by one of the least accurate QBs in FBS, Cincinnati’s Munchie Legaux – went over 47 yards only twice in the initial 7 games of the year. From the Brendon Kay takeover in game 8 vs. Syracuse game on, he eclipsed 47 5 out of 6 contests. He was a part of 9 TDs, 7 in the Kay games.
My main reason for including Kelce is that if you miss out on the top ones, you’d probably be thrilled with 811+ yards and 5 TDs. Brent Celek hit those levels in two different seasons for Andy Reid. L.J. Smith caught at least 5 TDs two different times in Reid’s offense, and Chad Lewis caught six in a season once. Kelce is by far the freakiest athlete Reid has worked with since becoming a head coach: 6’5″, 250 lbs., 35-inch vertical leap, 4.64 40 (3rd among rookie TEs). Also, new Chiefs QB Alex Smith threw to Vernon Davis during his best season, and many don’t believe Smith can throw deep.
Andy Reid has compared Kelce to Jeremy Shockey, and they’ve lined him up at a myriad of places in mini-camps.
15. Jets WR Jeremy Kerley (late rounds)
From Andy Reid to Marty Mornhinweg, his old coordinator. When you consider what Kerley put up in bad circumstances – 827 receiving yards, 3 total TD (1 return TD) – in 2012 under Tony Sparano, there’s a good chance he and the Jets offense could take quietly take off, irrespective of whether or not rocket-armed Geno Smith starts. They’re re-establishing the run game, and have an underrated TE tandem that will help spring the receivers loose on the outside. I believe that once Holmes gets back, that Mornhinweg will make sure they maximize him and Hill, but also take advantage of Kerley’s natural slot ability. Kerley is someone to monitor for the final rounds.
16. The Cleveland Browns starting QB (late rounds)
First of all, almost every WR on the Browns corps is either in his prime (Davone Bess, Greg Little, a year 3 guy) or entering it (Josh Gordon). Secondly, Norv Turner has improved every offense at every stop he’s made in his storied coaching career. Weeden appears to have the job, and will be a nice flier in 2-QB leagues and ones with large benches.