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Fantasy Football Crystal Ball

(The Verge) – After a grueling eight month wait, football is finally back. Amid the long awaited anticipation of the upcoming season, there is arguably as much excitement and anxiety surrounding your upcoming fantasy football draft. Matthew Berry, Fantasy Analyst at ESPN says it best; “You can’t miss draft day. Because it’s not just the best day of the year, it’s the only day of the year. That simple. Come hell or high water, you draft.”
This season, it’s not all about the quarterbacks as it was last year. I’m sure last year guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady flew off the boards early and did not disappoint. However, breakout seasons from rookies and young quarterbacks alike make this season’s drafting philosophy much different than last. Because the quarterback position is so deep this year, (you can grab a dual threat Colin Kaepernick as late as the 6th round), drafting running backs early and often is essential.
Just for argument’s sake, let’s assume that you hold the 5th pick in a 10 team league. Let’s take a look at what your team could theoretically look like if you were to draft a quarterback in the first round this season:
QB- Aaron Rodgers
RB1- Steven Jackson
RB2- David Wilson
WR1- Demaryius Thomas
WR2- Danny Amendola
FLEX- Eric Decker
TE- Kyle Rudolph
Now let’s take a look at what your team could look like if you were to draft running backs with your first two picks:
QB- Colin Kaepernick
RB1- Doug Martin
RB2- Matt Forte
WR1- Dwayne Bowe
WR2- Jordy Nelson
FLEX- Maurice Jones Drew
TE- Owen Daniels
If you fail to draft a running back with your first pick, you will likely miss out on a top 10 back which is critical to fantasy success. On team one, your number one back is Steven Jackson. Don’t get me wrong, I like Steven Jackson this year. He finds himself on a high-octane offense that loves to hand the ball off on goal-to-goal situations (Michael Turner had 5 straight double-digit TD seasons). However, he is also 30 years old and has a long history of injuries. Only 44 times in NFL history has a back age 30+ rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season which may limit his upside. Your number two back would theoretically be David Wilson. There’s a lot of potential there judging by Wilson’s 55 fantasy points in his final 4 games last season. However, he has trouble protecting the quarterback and has also had his share of fumbles. Add to the list that Andre Brown will most likely be the goal line back (when he returns from injury) and could take away some precious touchdowns late in the season.
Your receivers aren’t bad; Demaryius Thomas should be one of the top receivers this season, and Amendola could be one of Brady’s top targets. However, the receiver position is also very deep this season and is always unpredictable. Solid options poised to break out such as T.Y. Hilton or DeAndre Hopkins are available in much later rounds.

A look at Demaryius Thomas, a top wideout going into this year’s draft. Image taken from: dailyfantasysource.com.

On team two, because you draft running backs with your first two picks, you are rewarded with Doug Martin and Matt Forte. Doug Martin had a monster rookie season and can also catch passes out of the backfield making him one of top ranked backs in this year’s draft. Forte is a solid #2 back and has impressed this preseason logging 15 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown through three preseason games. He also has been catching balls out of the backfield (2 receiving TD’s so far).
Based on the average draft positions, your next two picks could theoretically be Maurice Jones Drew and Colin Kaepernick, giving you three elite running backs and the ESPY award winner for breakout athlete. Although Aaron Rodgers is certainly a better quarterback than Kaepernick, it is not too much of an advantage in fantasy because rushing yards and rushing touchdowns are worth more points than passing yards and passing touchdowns!
Lastly, because elite running backs are scarce this year (and are flying off the boards in mock drafts), it is essential to use your first few picks on running backs. You can always wait until the 6th, 7th 8th round for a decent quarterback (such as Russell Wilson or Matthew Stafford), or solid wide receivers (Jordy Nelson, Cecil Shorts). Waiting until the later rounds to draft a starting running back may leave you with options such as Daryl Richardson or DeAngelo Williams; players who will not help lead you to your fantasy championship.
Now that your draft strategy is clear, let’s take a look at some sleepers and busts for the upcoming season:
Lamar Miller: This 212 pound former track star is not a household name, making him an obvious sleeper for this upcoming season. All signals seem to point to Miller winning the starting job in South Beach over Daniel Thomas. Throw in the fact that you can wait until the 5th/6th round to take him.
Daryl Richardson: Being drafted as late as rounds 8-9, Richardson is a dual threat runner with the speed and elusiveness to compliment his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Coach Jeff Fisher has already named him the starter which makes Richardson a solid flex play in some leagues.
Michael Vick: Yes, I know, Vick had a terrible season last year. He’s prone to injury and turnovers as well. However, with an Average Draft Position of 95.6, he could provide great value. He’s in a wide open offense run by Chip Kelly that will run more plays than nearly every team in the league. Given Vick’s mobility and the possibility of a read-option gig with Lesean McCoy, Vick is a steal. Just make sure you draft a backup QB.
Though some may reserve serious doubt, Michael Vick may be a sleeper pick this year. Image taken from: profootballfocus.com.

Zach Sudfeld: Going undrafted in many leagues, Sudfeld could be the biggest sleeper in 2013. With Rob Gronkowski sidelined for at least a few games, Sudfeld remains the only tight end on the Patriots roster besides Michael Hoomanawanui (who?). He should get a fair amount of targets even if Gronkowski returns. The Patriots are known to run two-tight end sets.
Knowshon Moreno: No team has been more inconspicuous with their running back situation as the Denver Broncos this offseason. Nevertheless, Moreno remains the most reliable in pass protection which means he will see the field quite often. Ronnie Hillman is first on the depth chart now; but with his fumbling issues and Montee Ball’s inexperience and poor pass protection, Moreno could become the feature back at some point in the season.
Eric Decker: In an offense with Peyton Manning at the helm, Decker thrived last year. Now Wes Welker has arrived. Decker wasn’t the “big play” guy last year and doesn’t have as much ability as Demaryius Thomas. Now add Welker, the receptions machine, into the mix and Decker’s targets are likely to come down.
Reggie Wayne: Last year most fantasy owners thought Wayne was done. Instead, he was the Colts top wideout by far. Unfortunately, he’s not surprising anyone anymore; and with the speedy T.Y. Hilton ready to break out, I would skip out on Wayne this year.
Chris Ivory: I don’t like any player on the Jets this season, including their starting running back. The Jets will most likely be playing from behind a lot this season which will limit Ivory’s touches. He is also injury prone, and Bilal Powell could realistically wrestle the starting job away at any point, given the fact that he has already outplayed Ivory in the preseason.
Mike Wallace: In 2012, Wallace had as many outings with 0 or 1 point (5) as he did with double digit points (5). A receiver this inconsistent with Big Ben as the quarterback should be even more inconsistent this year with Ryan Tannehill.
Robert Griffin III: It’s not that I don’t believe in RGIII as a top 10 fantasy option because I certainly do. It’s the fact that he could be at risk for an injury (forcing you to draft a backup option), the play calling will most likely be more run-heavy, and he will likely not have as many rush attempts as last season. I’d steer clear of RGIII if possible.
A look at Robert Griffin III, “RG3,” who will be leading the Redskins this season. Image taken from: rozayraw.com.