Stock Watch: Quarterbacks 

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
Cam NewtonAP Photo/John BazemoreCam Newton set career lows in passing yards (3,379) and rushing yards (585) in 2013.

The NFL draft is fast approaching and much fantasy-relevant news will be coming from New York, but in general, what you currently see at quarterback around the league that matters for our statistical purposes in 2014 is already pretty set.

Sure, the occasional rookie quarterback will make an immediate impact, but because there seems to be little consensus on even who the top quarterback prospect is and whether the Houston Texans, owning the first overall pick, are even interested in that side of the football, it's not worth discussing today.

There have been myriad moves this offseason affecting the fantasy value of quarterbacks, and that's why it’s never a bad time for an April Stock Watch!

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Though owning New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski during the 2013 season tested many a frustrated fantasy owner, this was generally a productive position that was tough to complain about. Tight end scoring has never been higher, with 3,768 standard fantasy points from the position this past season, and for those in standard leagues, it wasn't terribly difficult to find a reasonable option. Let's discuss some of those reasonable options here. We've recapped/previewed quarterback, running back and wide receiver already, so with the Super Bowl on the horizon, let's finish up our position write-ups with tight end.

Jimmy Graham
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesJimmy Graham scored a full 55 (standard) fantasy points more than the next highest-scoring tight end.
Tight end Most Valuable Player: New Orleans Saints star Jimmy Graham seemed on his way to breaking the all-time mark at the position for touchdowns and fantasy points in a season, but ultimately fell just short. Graham scored 211 standard points, 22 behind Gronkowski's 2011 record, and scored 16 touchdowns, one off what Gronk achieved that season. Still, no wide receiver scored as many as 16 touchdowns this past season. Graham was spectacular and consistent, scoring in double digits for standard formats in 12 of 16 weeks. While the Denver Broncos' Julius Thomas and Cleveland Browns' Jordan Cameron were certainly superior values based on draft position, Graham was in a class by himself, outscoring No. 2 tight end Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers by 55 points; for perspective, Graham was the No. 9 flex option for the season, as only five running backs and three wide receivers outscored him. Even if you had to use a second-round pick to get him, Graham is the position MVP.

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While the running back position caused quite the stir in fantasy football 2013 due to its lack of depth and underwhelming success, this was hardly the case at wide receiver, where consensus first-rounder Calvin Johnson had plenty of help aiding fantasy owners. Consider that 23 wide receivers topped 1,000 receiving yards, and 10 reached double digits in touchdowns. Ten wide receivers scored at least 180 fantasy points in standard formats, one more than at running back. And several franchises provided multiple high-end options as weekly starters. With two positions in our rearview mirror, let's continue to recap the 2013 season and look ahead to 2014 at the wide receiver position.

Josh Gordon
AP Photo/Tony DejakJosh Gordon "pushed away" the other wide receiver MVP candidates with a huge second half.
Wide receiver MVP: Even had Johnson, the star of the Detroit Lions, not ultimately succumbed to knee woes that destroyed his December, he wasn't likely to end up as the position's MVP. After all, Megatron was a top-10 choice in most leagues. He should have led the position in scoring, but a combined 18 standard fantasy points the final four weeks (inactive in Week 17) paved the way for the Cleveland Browns' Josh Gordon and Denver Broncos' Demaryius Thomas to slip by him. Thomas was the fifth wide receiver off the draft board in ESPN ADP while Gordon was 42nd. Yep, quite the difference! Gordon's fantasy draft stock surely fell after the summer announcement that he would miss the first two weeks of the season with a drug-related suspension, but he still ended up topping the position in season scoring. And for the record, the quarterbacks he played with were Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell. OK, so the Browns could use an upgrade. And if it happens, watch out! Then again, how can Gordon improve? He was very good in the first half of the season then exploded in Weeks 11-14 for an average of 27 points per game, the best stretch for a wide receiver ever. It included, for the first time, consecutive 200-yard receiving performances. So Gordon is good. Real good. He does have potential off-field issues to be aware of, reminding some of enigmatic Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant, but no wide receiver was featured on more ESPN league championship squads.

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Let's face the facts: The 2013 fantasy football season was mostly a mess for running backs. Oh sure, a few runners who were relied upon as first-round draft picks performed to the level that was expected of them, but just as many top-10 choices flamed out because of injury or simply poor performance. Fantasy owners were on constant lookout for running backs on their free-agent wire, realizing early on that it was a struggle to fill even the starting slots at the scarce position, let alone put a running back at the flex spot. Alas, we made it through the season, and now it's time, as with quarterbacks a week ago, to review the position while also looking ahead to the future. May it be much brighter!

Jamaal Charles
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisJamaal Charles definitely lived up to the lofty billing.
Running back MVP: This honor seemed to be at least somewhat of a competition entering December, as Kansas City Chiefs star Jamaal Charles was battling Denver Broncos surprise Knowshon Moreno. One of them was a top-10 pick in all leagues, while the other was mainly a waiver-wire pickup. Then Charles unloaded 51 standard fantasy points on the beleaguered Oakland Raiders in Week 15 and the drama ended. Charles finished the season with a position-leading 295 standard points, 33 more than Philadelphia Eagles star LeSean McCoy, and Charles didn't even need to suit up in Week 17. He was the lone running back to get more than 100 targets, and he tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns and led the position in receiving scores while approaching 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

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Four games down, seven more to go! An exciting weekend of NFL action eliminated the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers, leaving us with eight teams to choose statistical options from for the rest of the playoffs. It wasn't a high-scoring weekend for fantasy owners, other than the Indianapolis Colts' stirring comeback win over the Chiefs; only seven players registered more than 16 standard fantasy points, and six came in the 45-44 shootout. Removing that game, the high scorers for the week were Colin Kaepernick (20 points), Nick Foles (16) and kicker Shayne Graham (15).

These updated rankings for the rest of the playoffs are for those owners who can adjust their postseason rosters. They reflect new matchups and the fact that top seeds are no longer on bye, and frankly have just as much chance as losing as the teams that played this past weekend. Remember, seeding means little at this point. So get rid of your Chiefs, Eagles, Bengals and Packers and update those rosters, if you can. And enjoy the rest of the playoffs!

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It started in early September with a seven-touchdown performance from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, continued through Week 9 when Philadelphia Eagles surprise Nick Foles matched the record-tying feat and ended with a productive final week that included New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees contributing five touchdown passes and winning many fantasy owners their leagues. Put simply, the 2013 season featured standout passer performances from start to finish -- as never seen to this level prior -- and it wasn't just Manning's heroics making their mark.

So with the 2013 regular season firmly in the rearview mirror and many fantasy owners already thinking about the 2014 campaign, it's time for our annual position recaps and early 2014 rankings. We begin at the quarterback position.
Peyton Manning
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesThumbs up to Peyton Manning for helping fantasy owners win championships in 2013.

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Welcome to January football, playoff-style. The regular season rewarded some of you with fantasy championships, and now we all get to try again with a fresh, new start here in the postseason.

As always for the playoffs, we do two sets of rankings in this space, depending on the type of league/pool available to you, whether online or off. The first is for the entirety of the postseason, as if one was drafting a team of players in standard roster format (1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 flex, 1 TE, 1 D/ST, 1 K) that cannot be altered. The second is for pools that permit adjustment of roster after this weekend, thus removing players from the teams earning a bye week and focusing on initial scoring.

Obviously, if an owner can change his lineup next week, there would be little need to secure Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson today. However, those guys will be accruing statistics the following weekend and perhaps a few more thereafter, and that's one of the goals: to identify players who will get the opportunity to compete in multiple games. For purposes of this blog entry, since your style of pool could present myriad rules -- draft or salary cap? -- and ways to accrue players, we'll present this in a general sense, based on overall value.

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Four Downs: No rust for Rodgers, Cobb 

December, 29, 2013
Perhaps it's true that absence does make the heart grow fonder, but when it comes to fantasy football owners who longingly missed Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and talented wide receiver Randall Cobb for months, the history they made Sunday afternoon probably works against that memorable phrase. After all, many Rodgers and Cobb owners might be wondering whether their Week 17 games would have mattered had these fellows stayed healthy. On Sunday afternoon, each made a triumphant return, as Rodgers found a wide-open Cobb for a game-winning, 48-yard touchdown to give the Packers a stunning 33-28 win over the Chicago Bears, earning the NFC North title and reminding fantasy owners that there shouldn't be any draft-day discounts for those two in 2014.

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And so it ends, another exciting, fruitful and at times ridiculous and unpredictable NFL season. We've been with you each and every week with our staff rankings and here with the flex version, in which we combine the best of the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends into one tidy package.

We again wish you all the best with your lineup choices this week. It has been a fun ride, and let's hope you still have pertinent decisions to make! Just make sure to check out the player news as the week goes on, as well as the Sunday morning updates on TV and online, because if past Week 17s are a guide, some of these players might not be suiting up.

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Neither of the No. 1 spots for the postseason has been clinched entering Week 17, which is actually a very good thing for fantasy football owners. How many times in the past has the great Peyton Manning been our top option for 16 weeks, only to leave us at the very end? This week, as his Denver Broncos seek home games on the way to meeting the NFC representative in New Jersey in February -- it just sounds odd, no? -- fantasy owners really can rely on Manning and his top weapons. And the same goes for Seattle Seahawks stars Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. No, I don't think Ronnie Hillman and Christine Michael are worthy options this week!

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
John Leyba/The Denver PostPeyton Manning still has plenty to play for in Week 17, including the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and the single-season passing yardage record.

Fantasy analysts far and wide will be asked about teams potentially sitting stars this week, but the fact is in most cases, it's just a guess which players will and will not play the entirety of their games. Only the coaches know, and if anyone out there still trusts an NFL coach, just rewind the ridiculous Dallas Cowboys news conference from Monday and try to figure out whether Tony Romo is playing this week. The point is, don't overthink it. I think Manning, who tossed four touchdown passes in Week 16 and could absolutely duplicate the feat Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, is a terrific play. I think Wilson and Lynch, with a tougher but feasible home matchup against the St. Louis Rams, are also safe plays. It has nothing to do with who got your fantasy team to Week 17. We aren't overly loyal NFL coaches, but in this case, it seems the best options are the best options.

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The concerns about Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray have never really been about his ability, but rather his lack of durability. There’s been little question the guy has game. On a Week 16 fantasy championship Sunday, Murray continued to showcase his enticing talents with his third 20-point standard fantasy performance in four games, the longest stretch of consistent excellence in his short career. He also became the first Cowboys running back to rush for 1,000 yards since Julius Jones in 2006 and in the process likely secured a top-10 fantasy finish for the season among running backs.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Evan VucciDeMarco Murray picked the right time for his first career touchdown reception.

While quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant and owner Jerry Jones garner the many headlines for the oft-beleaguered Cowboys organization, which will play the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title in the season finale, Murray seems to be going a bit unnoticed. Let me repeat: This is a clear top-10 running back, now and in the future! Sure, Murray missed a few games earlier this season, but his owners aren’t complaining today. He opened the scoring Sunday with a short touchdown run, his ninth of the season, then his 43-yard burst in the second quarter pushed him over 1,000 yards, and he culminated the outing with the first receiving touchdown of his career with a bit more than a minute remaining in the Cowboys’ exciting 24-23 win at Washington.

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Sneaky pickups entering Week 16 

December, 20, 2013
Wise keeper league fantasy owners should never stop thinking about the future, whether their teams are set for this season’s playoffs or not. We’re up to Week 16 and for the many keeper league owners whose seasons have ended -- always prematurely, of course -- it’s time to look ahead. Since in most leagues, the waiver-wire machine officially stops when the regular season ends, you’re running out of time to use that bench space for younger, upside players -- generally running backs -- who can and should impact teams next year and beyond. After all, we’re days before Christmas, so it’s tough to be particularly sneaky for this week. But for next year … go for it.

When I perused the free-agent listings in my keeper leagues -- so don’t ask about the likes of Cincinnati Bengals emerging star Giovani Bernard or others owned in all leagues -- whether my team was still playing for a championship or not, I found myriad attractive options with potential for relevance. Obviously it’s impossible to know whether your league keeps two players or six, or who has been released, but here are several grouping themes of players certainly worth taking a look at for next year. Perhaps you won’t consider them as keepers now or next summer, but then again, an injury or job description change to one of your top options could alter that. You could also find a fellow owner curious enough to trade a draft pick or make a 2-for-1 deal.

Injured stars: Houston Texans running back Arian Foster looked awfully productive late in the 2009 season, and if you snatched him up in a keeper league, he was certainly worth it. Well, he still is. Foster and Doug Martin were high first-round picks in ESPN average live drafts this season but neither made it to November due to injury. While Foster will be 28 for his next game and Martin was probably a tad overrated this season, it’s hardly a stretch nominating these guys as first-round picks again. In fact, it’s unlikely they’re available in keeper formats, just like Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, but look anyway. Same with Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin, New York Giants running back David Wilson or Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon (suspended, not hurt). There are obvious flaws with each, but it’s reasonable they could perform well in 2014 if healthy and trouble-free.

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Week 16 flex ranks: Trust your Bears 

December, 19, 2013
Well, if you're still checking out the top 100 flex rankings entering Week 16, then I both thank and applaud you. Either you're a glutton for punishment or your fantasy team or teams still have something to play for! No matter how good a fantasy team is, it's never a given that it will make it to Week 16. But here we are, and we at ESPN Fantasy are honored to help in any way we can, in this case bringing you the penultimate flex rankings, combining the best of the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends into one tidy package.

Just be sure to keep up with the news during the week; in fact, the status of a few players were altered just while I was writing this! And best of luck in Week 16 and beyond!
Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsYou can count on your Bears receivers to produce this week against that Philly D.

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While I fully admit it would be tough for me to rely on the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick or Kirk Cousins in a fantasy championship round -- regardless of attractive matchup -- I'm also not the type of owner who blindly subscribes to the "guy that got me there" approach. Fantasy owners often feel some misplaced sense of loyalty to players, even if the facts don't quite support it. Perhaps the best examples of full-season starters that don't seem like awesome options for me this week are the quarterbacks from the intriguing outdoors matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. I can at least understand why someone would sit Drew Brees and Cam Newton for a Fitzpatrick or Cousins, even though I probably wouldn't go that far. But after ranking these gentlemen a tad worse than my colleagues -- at seventh and eighth among quarterbacks -- I would consider sitting them for Andy Dalton or Jay Cutler and several others who might surprise you. Ultimately it comes down to where one draws the proverbial line.

The problem for Brees and Newton, the Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks in fantasy scoring for the season, is that the Panthers and Saints also happen to possess the Nos. 2 and 4 defenses, respectively, for preventing fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. This is a potential game-changer, folks, as it's unlikely to be one of those 31-28 games. Brees hasn't scored 20 standard fantasy points in any of his seven road games this season, though he hasn't exactly been Geno Smith, either. Newton seems impervious to home/road matchups -- like pretty much everyone in the NFL, by the way -- but he has looked somewhat ordinary the past few weeks and is dealing with a toe issue. Plus, as I noted, he's facing a tough defense! These talented players made my top 10, but not in their customary high-ranking places, which is by design.
Drew Brees
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastDrew Brees will face a Panthers defense that has held opposing quarterbacks to just 8.4 points per game in Carolina this season.

For example, I'm guessing there aren't too many Matthew Stafford owners feeling confident about him today. In fact, your season could be over because of him (trust me, plenty of Stafford owners still won in Week 15, just as not every Jamaal Charles owner won). The Detroit Lions' starter was arguably the No. 3 fantasy quarterback most of the season, but he hasn't played well of late, putting on an Eli Manning-like turnover show Sunday as the team worked on choking away a playoff berth. Of course, one of those games was in a driving snowstorm and the other was against the defending Super Bowl champs. But I ranked Stafford, facing Manning's terrible New York Giants defense at home this week, over Brees and Newton.

I also have Nick Foles (No. 2) and Philip Rivers (No. 3) significantly better for their appealing home matchups against brutal pass defenses. Think everything is Tony Romo's fault? Hey, he's still getting his fantasy points -- we don't judge here! -- and Washington is still giving them up. All these guys rank better than Brees and Newton for me. Brees delivered a seven-point fantasy game in Seattle a few weeks ago. Carolina's defense has permitted only one quarterback to top 17 fantasy points all season. That was Brees, in his safe dome, a few weeks ago. The most fantasy points the Panthers have allowed to a quarterback at home this season is 14. Then there's Newton, who was held to 160 passing yards at New Orleans a few weeks ago, and it wasn't due to venue. Frankly, I can make the case that Brees and Newton aren't even top-10 passers this week.

I understand why fantasy owners stick with their studs, and look, I tend to do this as well when it makes sense. But it's not simply because they're my studs. Season scoring is irrelevant in Week 16! The evidence supports playing Stafford against the Giants 10 times out of 10. I didn't rank Cutler ahead of Brees, but I understand why someone would. When Twitter questions come fast and furious about sitting Brees for Cutler, I can only answer what I would do, since every owner is obviously within rights to follow their gut -- with hopefully some statistical evidence -- and play the guy he wants. It's your team(s)! And while you might ruminate over an incorrect lineup decision for the next few weeks, months or even years, bitter at what might have been, I sure won't. Yeah, it's Foles, Rivers, Stafford, Wilson and even Romo over Brees and Newton for me this week, and I'm not looking back. You shouldn't either, no matter who you start at quarterback.

Quarterback: Cousins checks in at No. 14 for me, which I think is fair. He is still unproven. Sure, he's playing an ACC-level defense, but he's still not a lock. I would use him over the No. 4 quarterback for the season in Andrew Luck, though. … Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing well, and with seven more touchdown passes in the final two games, he'll get to 20 for the fourth consecutive year. But it's worth noting the Jaguars aren't exactly "Cowboys-bad" defensively. … If Aaron Rodgers is able to start, he'd be my No. 7 quarterback, just in front of Brees and Newton. But don't tell me he belongs top-three because of who he is, where you drafted him, etc. He hasn't played in an NFL game in months.
Alfred Morris
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsRedskins RB Alfred Morris scored 14 fantasy points against this week's opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, back in Week 6.

Running back: The Cowboys aren't merely the worst defense against opposing quarterbacks, but they check in there against running backs, too. As such, Alfred Morris makes my top five, even over the great Adrian Peterson. And I feel good about it! … Peterson is no sure thing, folks. There's the risk of re-injury, and the Bengals are among the toughest to run on. I ranked him fifth, but actually don't feel good about that. … Ryan Mathews faces the same Oakland defense Jamaal Charles just scored 51 fantasy points against. He's among my top 10 running backs. … Amazing how Shane Vereen goes from top-10 among running backs to barely top-20 because Bill Belichick is smart enough to keep defenses guessing. If you liked Vereen last week, like him now. … Jordan Todman made quite the jump to top-20 RB, eh? I really doubt Maurice Jones-Drew plays again this season. And trusting Todman is not the same as trusting Kirk Cousins. There's no RB depth. … Ben Tate scares me, for health and performance against a Denver team that will score many points. Don't get too excited about Dennis Johnson if he plays.

Wide receiver: Yes, if I owned Josh Gordon and A.J. Green and could play only two receivers, I'd sit Calvin Johnson. He's my No. 3. That's how rankings work. But Megatron will light up the Giants. … I like Jordy Nelson regardless of who will be at quarterback for Green Bay. … I'm the only one with Anquan Boldin over Michael Crabtree. That wasn't planned, but I think it's premature to expect Crabtree to score every week. … Rueben Randle starts with Victor Cruz out, but does it matter if Eli Manning has no time to throw and his passes are errant? I'd rather use the underrated Doug Baldwin.
While Week 15 of the fantasy football season likely will be remembered for Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles producing the top individual performance of the season -- and one of the greatest ever! -- and Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker ending the high-scoring week with a game-winning 61-yard field goal that affected an estimated 11,000 results in ESPN standard leagues, the truth is that several fantasy MVP candidates didn't exactly make their owners proud and myriad fantasy seasons likely ended for this reason.

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