Separating wide receivers into tiers 

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28

The wide receiver position is seriously deep this season, which isn't really a surprise but more a continuation from past years. However, because running back is shallow in comparison, you might find those who make their living catching the football slide in drafts. Hey, that's fine with me. After all, while I'm not assuming the flex position on all my teams will routinely be filled by a wide receiver, it's kind of irrelevant. Go with the best guy from week to week.

As we continue with "tier week" in this blog space, you'll likely find larger concentrations of wide receivers clumped together, for it's easier to find similarities at this position, or rather not much separates them. At running back, you just feel in your gut this guy is better than that. Often there are statistics to prove it from the past, one situation trumps another, but at wide receiver, that's not always the case.

Separating running backs into tiers 

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
Kansas City ChiefsScott Boehm/AP ImagesAdept at rushing and receiving, Jamaal Charles is the paragon of running back fantasy value.
Running backs are no longer the lifeblood for fantasy football owners, but that doesn't mean you should be ignoring them, either. My first round is made up entirely of running backs, but there are certainly different levels of excitement in securing members of that crew. We call them tiers, and as noted in Tuesday's quarterback listings, a tiered system aids those participating in drafts and auctions to better gauge the depth at a certain position, and helping to analyze when an owner needs to act or when patience is warranted.

Let's get right to the rankings and remember these are mine and mine alone, considerably different from the staff lists and those of my compatriots.

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Separating quarterbacks into tiers 

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26

videoOne of the reasons I tend to clump positions together in my rankings is because I use a tiered system to evaluate potential fantasy helpers. In other words, if several players offer similar value, they often become entangled in a tier and it's easier to figure out in the hustle and bustle of a draft or auction if there's a need to choose the last option from a certain tier, or simply wait for the next one to begin.

For example, you'll see below I view three quarterbacks as a top tier, and I rank them consecutively, but after that I see a considerable drop-off to another trio of passers. Do you react when a tier is nearing the end and potentially overpay, or exercise patience for the next one? And sometimes the drop from one tier to the next is extreme, out of the ordinary. These are draft-day dilemmas many of us deal with.

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Wes Welker, D.J. Swearinger, Jeff TarpinianAP Photo/Jack DempseyWes Welker suffered yet another concussion Saturday after this hit from D.J. Swearinger.
It's difficult to say for sure if Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker will be available for Week 1 of the regular season after he suffered yet another concussion during the team's game with the Houston Texans on Saturday. However, fantasy owners dismissing the two concussions Welker suffered during the 2013 season -- and the three missed contests during our playoff time because of them -- got another reminder that there's danger lurking here. I admit my original ranking of Welker among the top 20 wide receivers didn't show enough caution, but now reality has struck again and we all must be concerned. Welker swiftly slides out of my top 20 wide receivers and his teammate Emmanuel Sanders gets a boost to the point I'd simply choose him first, though not quite in the same spot.

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Team-by-team running back outlook 

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21


In a general sense, I find the popular fantasy football strategy of handcuffing running backs to be largely overrated. Sure, several key running backs will get injured this season, and someone's going to replace them on their NFL teams, in theory, but seldom do we see a future star lurking who provides immediate fantasy, um, gratification. The more popular handcuffs heading into last season were Ben Tate, Andre Brown, Giovani Bernard and Bernard Pierce, and Bernard was the only one who really helped fantasy owners a great deal.

Looking at the accompanying chart, it's clear there are some very different situations. In fact, the days of natural handcuffing, as it were, are somewhat in the rearview mirror. Last season, only two players topped the 300-carry mark. In 2010, seven running backs achieved this. The Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals have two smallish starters who can catch passes and some bigger folks to handle the goal-line stuff. Teams such as the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins already have several fantasy-relevant running backs who figure to share the touches.

In the past, I've ranked the top handcuffing situations, but it's tough to find 10 that really matter -- the term doesn't fit several teams, and, let's face it, I'd prefer to go team by team with relevant thoughts. I can't imagine that's a problem!

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Manning-CharlesGetty ImagesYou can own Peyton Manning and Jamaal Charles in an auction league, but it will cost you a lot.
Fantasy football auctions can be a blast, but they can also overwhelm newcomers who aren't quite prepared for the quick pace or the constant adjustments needed during the process. Even now, after dozens of auctions to stock fantasy teams over the years in several sports, I still make the occasional mistake of either vastly overpaying for a player "I just gotta have" or letting another go too cheap because I didn't realize I actually had the funds to afford him or just added up the funds wrong. It happens to all of us.

Experience and proper planning are critical to constructing consistently strong auction teams -- and it is worth it! -- but ultimately just like a job interview, the more experienced one is, the better off you'll likely be. How does one gain this experience? Well, whether you're a seasoned veteran in the art of auction drafts or a newbie, we're here to help! Really, auction or draft day should be a fun experience, the signature day of the fantasy season for most, so making it worthwhile is paramount.

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Weekend wrap: Hakeem Nicks gains value 

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18

Hakeem NicksBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsFour of Hakeem Nicks' five catches against his former team were for first downs.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks doesn't seem like the most well-liked fantasy option for this season, as he is appearing outside the top 40 at his position in ESPN ADP, and it's easy to understand why. For one, Nicks really burned fantasy owners who made him a top-10 wide receiver two seasons ago, and those who invested last year were rewarded with nary a touchdown catch. That's right, he was the only one of the top 75 wide receivers in ESPN standard scoring who didn't score, though he ended up 32nd in receiving yards and really wasn't so bad. Plus, he managed to participate in 15 games, tying a career best. It doesn’t necessarily prove he's durable, but hey, 15 games work for us!

Nicks was the story in Saturday's 27-26 loss to the New York Giants -- the Giants scored all their points in the meaningless fourth quarter -- with five receptions for 53 yards. It should have been a greater performance, but his silly taunting penalty erased a long gain. Nicks and quarterback Andrew Luck were certainly clicking, and while the receiver admitted that proving a point to his old team was a motivating factor, fantasy owners should be paying attention for potential value. After all, when I see the Colts offense, I see a unit that doesn't figure to boast a strong running game -- I'm not believing in Trent Richardson -- and while Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton figure to start, neither is a lock for stardom. All three wide receivers should matter.

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Stock watch: Wide receivers/tight ends 

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14

Only the Denver Broncos produced more yards from scrimmage than the surprising Philadelphia Eagles last season, but coach Chip Kelly's innovative offense lost a key piece in DeSean Jackson -- deliberately, by the way -- and expects to fill the void with several fellows, from wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to running back Darren Sproles to enticing tight end Zach Ertz. However, those guys aren't expected to be elite fantasy contributors, meaning it's running back LeSean McCoy and … well, who else? The Broncos feature three wide receivers and a tight end among the top 100 in ESPN ADP. Outside of McCoy, the Eagles have Maclin, and his stock is falling.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJeremy Maclin is a popular choice to have a career year, but there is injury risk involved.

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Stock watch: Running backs 

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13

Whether or not you're optimistic about Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, we can all agree he's no lock to return to his lofty place atop the running backs or even to play in all 16 games this season. I happen to be a fan, locking him in as a top-10 player. Others think that's crazy. Still, I'm paying close attention to what else occurs in the Houston backfield, because when we talk about potential handcuff situations, this team is near the top of the list. And the obvious handcuff was unceremoniously released on Monday.

That's right, if you're thinking about selecting former New York Giant Andre Brown, note that he's now also a former Texan. He's looking for work. It's certainly feasible that he'll find work relatively soon, perhaps in a place where there is fantasy relevance. A veteran like Brown would probably be welcomed by at least 10 teams right now, from the Giants to the Broncos, Jets, Falcons and Colts. The point here is that when taking stock of the running back position, there hasn't been a ton of news with the top-20 running backs so far. But Brown's release, when considered in context with Foster being used sparingly the past few weeks because of a sore hamstring and coming off a season truncated by back surgery, makes this a situation to watch. Foster is 27, and from 2010 to '12 he was arguably the busiest -- and most productive -- running back in the game. Today he's a risk.

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Stock watch: Quarterbacks 

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12

Fantasy owners sure aren't waiting on their quarterbacks in ESPN live drafts, so in a sense, the stock is up for pretty much everyone at the position. Not only is Denver Broncos stud Peyton Manning being selected in the middle of the first round -- which I believe is ill-advised for several reasons -- but of the 25 quarterbacks being chosen in these standard drafts, all but two of them have seen their stock rise in seven-day plus-minus over the past week. Think about how odd that is. Running backs and wide receivers are going in the other direction, but everyone apparently loves their passers.

So who are the only two relevant quarterbacks apparently held in lesser regard than this time a week ago? The fall of Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles was predictable. After all, he threw two interceptions in the first quarter of the "critical" first preseason game at Soldier Field, which of course means everything he achieved during the amazing 2013 season was a complete hoax and he's doomed to lose his starting job to Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley or Ron Jaworski (yes, he once played). The sad thing is some of you think I'm being serious. Nothing that Foles does -- or doesn't do -- in August has any bearing on September, in my opinion, but if he slips past Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson outside the top 10 at his position, it's excellent value. Should Foles play well on his three drives this week, I wonder if his stock will rise again. Oh, why bother.

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Preseason weekend wrap 

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
Rashad JenningsWilliam Perlman/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsRashad Jennings was impressive against the Steelers, but should that affect your rankings at RB?
Congratulations to all fantasy football owners who made it through the first weekend of preseason football without a drastic reconstruction of the rankings you spent weeks devising, adjusting your sleepers and busts, retooling your overall philosophy of how you’d like to build your teams this season. It's really only one weekend, and a pretty meaningless one in the big picture. In many cases, the starters that we'll be drafting early in fantasy either didn't get permitted to play or saw so little time that performance couldn't realistically be judged. Oh, plenty of reserves that you had previously never heard of put up some numbers, just like every August, and most of them won't be heard from this season.

Do you remember the top statistical performers from the 2013 preseason? Did you change your mind about quarterbacks Pat Devlin, Case Keenum or Matt Simms, because they led the NFL in passing yards? The leaders in rushing yards were Khiry Robinson -- who then was barely used by the New Orleans Saints during the regular season -- Jordan Todman, Joseph Randle, Christine Michael and David Wilson. Marcus Easley led all wide receivers in receiving yards … and then hauled in two receptions in the 16 games that mattered. These guys didn't help fantasy owners win anything, yet people were getting mildly excited about some of them last August. Seems silly today, no?

So we should be happy for those that threw, ran and caught well this first weekend, but I can't say I'm suddenly moving new Buffalo Bills running back Bryce Brown up my rankings because he continues to play well. He remains a distant third on the depth chart behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. New England Patriots wide receiver Brian Tyms -- I bet 98 percent of you had never heard of him -- led the position with 119 receiving yards this weekend, but he might not make the team, in part because he's suspended the first four regular-season games. New York Giants rookie Andre Williams looked good from what I saw, but the team's starting RB, journeyman Rashad Jennings, looked better, breaking a 73-yarder for a score. See, it's all about perspective, and oh, Jennings is probably moving up in the rankings more than he should.

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I would bet New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a blast at parties. I mean, I've heard stories and it doesn't seem like much of a stretch that this gregarious, attention-seeking fellow who once appeared on a reality dating show would be lots of fun to hang out with. The problem, for our reasonable purposes, is he's just not as much fun to own in a fantasy league anymore. It's true that Gronkowski could be as talented a pure receiving tight end as the league has ever seen, but here's a fun fact: We like our players -- fun or not -- to actually appear in football games. Like, perhaps give us 14-plus games per season. Sorry, but that sure doesn't seem like Gronkowski anymore.

So it is that, for the third consecutive year, this ridiculously talented player -- nobody really argues that point -- shows up on my "Do Not Draft" list, which is not to say I would not select him if the price were right, but who are we kidding? The price isn't right. That's the entire point. I can't even keep track of all the various maladies to body parts that have kept Gronk from playing, from the back to the arm to whatever, and this goes back into college, as well. He tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee in a game this past December and had it repaired in January. Gronkowski claims he'll be ready for Week 1, which is awesome and optimistic and let's give him respect, but … OK, is that really realistic, and, even if it happens, how long until some other body part trips him and us up again?

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Cordarrelle PattersonWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesCordarrelle Patterson is poised to be the Vikings' top receiving threat, no matter the quarterback.
It's true that last summer Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was on my list of potential breakout performers, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown and the Baltimore Ravens' Torrey Smith. (Well, two outta three isn't too bad, though Smith wasn't necessarily bad.) One didn't need to be Nostradamus to realize the talent lurking in Gordon, but his second season provided the critical opportunity he needed to produce major numbers, as he ended up as fantasy's highest-scoring wide receiver. It doesn't appear he'll get the same chance to do that again in 2014, leaving opportunity for someone else on the Browns to step up.

With breakouts for fantasy having been analyzed at quarterback and running back, let's move on to the wide receivers. As with the other positions, we're excluding all rookies for these purposes and dividing the options into two sections. The goal is to identify players perhaps under the radar in terms of value -- regardless of their age and prior failed chances -- who could break out into true or truer fantasy relevance. Some of the choices are going to be selected in all leagues, like the Ravens' Smith was in 2013, for example, the obvious top-40 wide receivers that you might not have considered a team building block. Others are far more off the radar -- like the Chicago Bears' Alshon Jeffery was last summer! -- but perhaps shouldn't be. Time to break out the options, and you can share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Andre EllingtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington gained 10 or more yards on 24 of his 118 carries last season (20.3 percent).

The top running back for the Denver Broncos last season was supposed to be hotshot rookie Montee Ball, but instead, forgotten veteran Knowshon Moreno stepped up in August, showed he could block effectively and produced by far the greatest season of his NFL career, thanks in no small part to the presence and ability of quarterback Peyton Manning. Still, it was a major surprise. Moreno was a 14th-round selection in ESPN average live drafts, but he finished a stunning fifth at his position in standard scoring. Moreno, now on the Miami Dolphins and certainly not expected to achieve the same success, was a clear and surprising breakout, seemingly near the end of a disappointing career in his fifth season. Instead, he posted career bests across the board. So, who's next?

After focusing on the breakout quarterbacks, it's time to check out the most important of fantasy positions, the running backs. Whereas most fantasy teams aren't even looking for a breakout quarterback, because there are certainly more than 10 capable starters for 10-team formats, the running back depth is weak, and we're all looking for help. Several running backs will break out, and your job is to identify them in the middle to late rounds. As with quarterback, I'm leaving out all rookies. We're not so much concerned with age -- could be 22, could be 29 -- but we're searching for those who might have previously been incapable of earning opportunity or failed to seize it when it arrived. Perhaps you're not thinking about them much, and that's precisely the point, because past disappointments and complete unknowns do shock us on occasion.

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EJ ManuelMelina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel is ready to make a big leap in his second NFL season.
I admit that much of the time when asked about potential breakout fantasy performers -- and this is a perfect week, as August approaches, to discuss it -- I keep it to running backs and wide receivers. After all, to me those are the key positions at which depth is paramount and leagues are generally won and lost. There are so many top-notch quarterbacks to start with -- probably 15 or so capable of being a legitimate starter in a 10- or 12-team standard league -- why bother examining the likes of Buffalo Bills sophomore EJ Manuel, right? Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals and Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers finished sixth and seventh, respectively, among all players in standard scoring last season, and neither of them is regarded as close to that valuable this year. They're reserves. It's deep!

Still, there will be several quarterbacks who do “break out” and become far more relevant than most expected, so while it’s a bit silly to predict the next Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, the standard we’re looking at for these breakout purposes is pretty much precisely what Dalton and Rivers achieved during their tremendous 2013 campaigns. They weren’t highly thought of prior to Week 1, it quickly changed, and now to some degree they’ve been cast aside again. Who replaces them? Good question! While some rookies will break out, I’m disregarding them from consideration. Talk about Johnny Manziel all you like -- and many have -- but what are these guys breaking out from, college? I’m looking for players of various ages who are finally healthy and earning a new opportunity, or something changed around them to affect value. Look for upside, but that doesn’t mean disregarding someone who is 27. Basically, don’t forget some of last season’s popular sleepers, for the ability likely remains.

Let’s separate the breakouts into two classes: First, we have the ones regarded as borderline fantasy starters or obvious backups, as Dalton was last summer. Perhaps one or two take that Dalton/Rivers leap. Then we have quarterbacks who aren’t really regarded much at all, outside the top 20 at the position. For those in deeper formats -- like multi-quarterback ones -- the difference in winning and losing could be a fellow like this. Predicting breakouts at quarterback isn’t like forecasts for the other positions, but we’ll get to running back and wide receiver during the week.

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