Eric Karabell Football: Fantasy NFL

Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, the last time an Oakland Raiders team won more games than it lost was the 2002 season, which is a really long time ago. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice was on that Super Bowl team! So these Raiders would like the "something new" to be a nine-win season, at the least. It doesn't seem likely based on the talent and personnel at hand, though it appears to have been upgraded this spring with veteran options. Former Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones get perhaps their final opportunities to start, as Terrelle Pryor, Rashad Jennings and Jacoby Ford have moved on, but the fantasy value for the new fellows seems muted, if not barely existent. The franchise quarterback was drafted, so the main story around this franchise will be about when Derek Carr finally sees opportunity.

Something to prove:

Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, the Bengals franchise and their starting quarterback seem to be a bit too much-maligned from a real and fantasy aspect. After all, this team won 11 games and the division title last season and has qualified for the playoffs three consecutive seasons and quarterback Andy Dalton, for all his faults, did end up as the No. 6 overall fantasy performer last season and fifth at his position. Is that enough? Can he and the team do it again? Certainly these questions are debatable. Each coordinator has bolted the Queen City for a head -coaching job, with the Jay Gruden offense now in the hands of former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and the Mike Zimmer defense being managed by Paul Guenther. There are repercussions in each case, as Jackson figures to run a quicker-tempo offense that should help everyone, while Guenther's defense is likely still top-10 for fantasy owners. Oh, and the Bengals added a notable quarterback and seemingly impactful running back in the draft to cause some fuss, too.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, much like the rival Seattle Seahawks, who topped the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl, the spring was about contract situations and making key players happy. For San Francisco, that meant a brand new historic deal for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, one that was pretty controversial since it featured the most guaranteed money for anyone in the sport, and it will surely affect others. Whether Kaepernick, with his 23 career starts, is really worth that type of investment is quite another issue. Coach Jim Harbaugh is still waiting for his money, which couldn't possibly be an issue moving ahead, right? As for actual changes to personnel, the 49ers' draft looked like a clear win, and fantasy owners will want to become interested in running back Carlos Hyde, and soon.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, it might seem like the biggest offseason storyline for this franchise after its eventful draft, but it's really been about quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Jake Long rehabilitating from serious knee injuries. Bradford appears well on pace for preseason action, while Long's outlook for Week 1 is a bit more problematic. The Rams need these guys, but relying on a quarterback and his key blocker is nothing new for NFL teams. For the Rams, however, it's tough to see them succeeding in the league's toughest division without Bradford and Long. The Rams acquired several new faces through the draft, but generally on defense.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, Year 1 of the Bruce Arians experience went well, as the Arizona Cardinals won 10 games, only the second time the franchise achieved that total since the mid-1970s. It wasn’t good enough for the playoffs, however, and key losses on defense could prevent a repeat. On offense, the main loss is hardly a critical one, as leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall unexpectedly retired at 26 years old to pursue life, love or whatever isn’t linebackers diving at his knees. In theory, that should vault second-year jitterbug Andre Ellington into clear RB2 territory, but the Cardinals seem intent on some kind of timeshare with a larger fellow. After all, Mendenhall was pretty ordinary last year -- except for the eight rushing touchdowns -- as he averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per carry, and still Ellington never saw 20 touches in a game. So what’s new for the running back situation is Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer appear firmly in play for attention, whether fantasy owners like it or not (and they certainly do not).

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, this is the first summer anyone could call the Seahawks defending Super Bowl champs, and that's indeed a very new and good thing. Of course, with January and February success come greater expectations moving ahead and salary increases for many, and as we've seen in past seasons, the champs rarely thrive the following campaign. The Seahawks rewarded coach Pete Carroll with a terrific new deal, kept critical pieces of the top defense in Richard Sherman and others happy with their checkbook and the wide receiver corps should be deeper, presuming health for a certain lightning rod of talent. What's also new is the potential for a running back committee … OK, maybe not a true committee, but everyone seems to agree Christine Michael is a future star in this league, so watch out, Marshawn Lynch owners.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, Drew Brees is still here, but a few of his weapons are new. Since nobody seems too concerned about Brees dropping off statistically anytime soon -- he owns four of the seven 5,000-yards passing season all-time and should add to it -- that creates opportunity for others. Darren Sproles is an Eagle and Lance Moore a Steeler, meaning the Nos. 4 and 5 fellows in terms of receptions are gone. Then again, this doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. The Saints chose a wide receiver in the first round of the draft, and depth at running back was already strong.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, on the surface it’s hard to find too many franchises that had a more challenging offseason. The quarterback underwent significant ankle surgery, his best offensive tackle retired and good luck trying to name the wide receivers now that longtime franchise producer Steve Smith was sent packing and ended up in Baltimore (get ready for that Week 4 clash!), and the other options landed elsewhere. Then again, Cam Newton is expected to be ready for July training camp, in plenty of time for the regular season, and the organization doesn't believe he has lost a step. Newton's former left tackle Jordan Gross has ample time to relax, and there remains concern about who steps up, but Newton isn't exactly the prototype pocket passer to start with. And wide receiver, well, it's really not so bad, after all.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, start with the organization’s future quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, secured by a new coaching staff with the last selection of Round 1. Mike Zimmer will run things as head coach while Norv Turner handles the offense, and really, when you throw in arguably the best running back in the game and an electric wide receiver entering his second campaign, that should be enough to inspire the masses. Expectations shouldn’t necessarily be sky-high this very season, but they could be relatively soon. After all, the running back isn’t getting any younger (as if any of us are).

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, Bears quarterbacks were pretty good last season, ending up fifth in the league in passing yards, tied for fifth in touchdown passes and sixth in passer rating. But one of them is gone. Older veteran Josh McCown watched the Bears back up the Brinks truck to make the younger Jay Cutler happy, and then McCown bolted to Tampa Bay to play for his former coach, Lovie Smith. Now it's all about Cutler. Other than that, the Bears, like the division-rival Packers, seemed a lot more concerned with upgrading the defense.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.
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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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