Fantasy Football: Players That Should Have Their Team’s Trust (and Yours)

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

This piece is pretty easy to figure out. Throughout you fantasy football draft there are a handful of teammates that have similar value, are fighting for roles in their offense, and are going in or around the same spot. Here, I go through a few of these situations for each position (other than quarterback) and explain who should be getting your vote of confidence.

Running Backs

David Cobb (ESPN RB43/13th Round , Yahoo RB51/13th Round )
OVER Bishop Sankey (ESPN RB40/11th Round, Yahoo RB51/13th Round)
To me, this one’s pretty straightforward. If Sankey somehow wins this job, chances are you still don’t want him on your fantasy team. As a starter last season, Sankey didn’t produce a single double digit performance. (He did get 11 points week four, with 6 carries and a TD, but it wasn’t a “start” by any means). Any running back on this team would struggle because of the offensive line play in Tennessee, but we’ve already seen what Sankey could do and it’s wasn’t pretty.
David Cobb, on the other hand, is an unknown commodity that has a pretty good chance at starting from week one.  Like I said last week, even if the Titans are stubborn and roll out Sankey week 1, Cobb has the tools to be a lead back, and would make a great stash for the first few weeks until Sankey inevitably struggles. As a starter, I don’t think Cobb has top-10 upside, but he’s got a lot more to offer than Sankey.
If Sankey winds up being good this year I’ll admit I was wrong, but I’m not putting any of my eggs in that basket this offseason.

Joique Bell (ESPN RB23 /7th Round, Yahoo RB33/11th Round) 
Ameer Abdullah (ESPN RB31/9th Round , Yahoo RB25/9th Round)
This one’s tricky, and kind of depends on what kind of Fantasy owner you are. There’s a chance Ameer Abdullah does nothing the first few weeks of the season, and slowly works his way to the starting job. Because of that, I think he’s an extremely risky proposition where he’s going. If you have the patience to keep him on the bench for 4-8 weeks until he’s unleashed or injuries push him to start, then by all means draft him, but if you want strong numbers right out the gate, I would go with Joique Bell.
Bell should see the majority of the workload to start the year, and, when healthy, is a totally competent NFL running back that should be a productive fantasy option. Despite his ups and downs, Bell was the RB14 last year, and ended the season strong, averaging 13.4 PPG over the last 7 weeks. If the Lions hadn’t drafted Abdullah this season, there would be no question he’s be going higher in fantasy.
There’s also a very small chance Bell is the de-facto workhorse this year. I don’t think it’s likely, but I think there’s more of a chance Bell is “the guy,” and Abdullah contributes absolutely nothing, rather than the other way around. Also, even if Abdullah is the starter, Bell won’t go away easy. He’ll catch passes and get some looks at the goal line, limiting Abdullah’s potential upside for this season.
I do think Abdullah will see the field plenty early on, grabbing a few passes and getting carries through the game, so he’ll have some value week to week as a backup. By the end of the season, Abdullah could certainly be the better back, and should have the bigger roll post 2015, but Bell isn’t a scrub, and should get the opportunity early in the year.

Justin Forsett (ESPN RB14/4th Round, Yahoo RB11/3rd Round) 
OVER CJ Anderson (ESPN RB6/1st Round, Yahoo RB9/2nd Round)
Ok, they obviously aren’t teammates, but there are enough similarities between Justin Forsett and CJ Anderson that I felt comparing them could work well. Both guys have similar upside this year after having breakout seasons in 2014. Both players will work with new offensive coaching staffs, and Justin Forsett’s old OC is now CJ Anderson’s head coach.
There are a few reasons I prefer Forsett to CJ Anderson, and the main one is that I think his roll in the offense is a little more secure. Forsett was the starter the entire season, and held onto the job without showing signs of letting up. Anderson was great as a starter, but only had a roll from week 10 on. Also, Anderson became the starter after Ronnie Hillman got hurt, but Hillman was fully competent as a starter when he was healthy and he’s having a strong preseason, so I wouldn’t 100 percent count him out (he should see a handful of snaps a week even as a backup). Forsett’s backfield is much less competitive, so I don’t think there’s any risk of him being outplayed by a teammate, even if he regresses. One more note on security: Anderson has an entirely new coaching staff to win over, while Forsett already won the trust of his head coach and GM last season, and will only have to sway Tressman.
A lot of my optimism on Forsett’s production has to do with Marc Tressmen being the new OC, because running backs become a top target in his system.  Look at Matt Forte’s receptions before, and then during, Tressman’s tenure in Chicago. From 2008-2012, Forte was getting about 70 targets a year, but from 2013-2014 he averaged 112 targets, which led to an absurd 102 catches last season, which was a 60 percent increase in production.
Forsett isn’t the ridiculous receiving threat Forte is, but is a competent pass catcher, with 44 catches just last year, and if you increase that by even 50 percent thanks to Tressman, that comes to 66 catches, which could result in up to 500 yards and 3 to 4 touchdowns receiving.
Both backs have huge upsides, and Anderson’s is probably even higher than Forsetts, but I like the relative security of Forsett. Forsett probably won’t reach my lofty 258 point projection, but I think the high volume of touches should make him a top option at running back even if he underperforms.

Wide Receiver

Mike Wallace (ESPN WR 27/8th Round ,Yahoo WR29/10th Round)
OVER Charles Johnson (ESPN WR36/10th Round, Yahoo WR42/12th Round)
People tend to be turned off by Mike Wallace because they remember him in his heyday, as a top 5 receiver in Pittsburgh’s offense four seasons ago. He wasn’t the same type of player is Miami, however, he was actually really good in fantasy last year, and ranked as WR18. He was a touchdown machine, with 10 TDs spread across nine games, and even though he never clicked as a deep threat in the offense, he only had five real clunkers last season with five points or less, establishing a really solid floor.  I think the TDs were a little fluky, but now in Minnesota with Norv Turner’s high-upside offense, he should be able to increase his yards per catch from the 12.8 mark he posted in Miami, closer to 14 or 15.
He has an outside chance at reclaiming his reputation as the most dangerous deep threat in football, and considering Minnesota actually traded for him, it makes me think they’re going to try their best to make it work. He definitely won’t fall off a cliff. Remember, in a year where WRs took all the headlines, Wallace was still ranked 18.
Charles Johnson, despite the production he had over the final 7 weeks of 2014, is still an unproven player. Even if we look at that stretch game-by-game, he has highly inconsistent numbers. Starting after the Bye week in week 10, he posted, in order, 8, 13, 4, 16, 7, 3 and 2 points. That’s two games you were happy to have him on your team, and three games you definitely didn’t want him to be starting.
We’ve also seen people post numbers in the final weeks of a season before and get over drafted the following year. Remember Devin Aromashodu? In 2009 he scored 51 points the final 4 games of the season, and then was drafted in the 10th round the following year. He caught 10 passes in 14 games the following season.
I don’t think Johnson will be a bust like that, but it isn’t out of the question either. Compared to Wallace, the floor is much lower, and Wallace has shown that he’s a reliable option for a while now.

Josh Brown (ESPN WR41/11th Round, Yahoo WR45/12th Round) and Michael Floyd (ESPN WR37/11th Round, Yahoo WR48/12th Round) 
OVER Larry Fitzgerald (ESPN WR32/9th Round Yahoo WR35/11th Round)
There is no way Fitzgerald finishes the season as a useful fantasy option this year. He finished 2014 as WR55, with only three games scoring 10 or more fantasy points, and an 10 games scoring five points or less (not including the two games he missed).  If we look further back and combine 2012 and 2013, he had 14 games with 10 or more points, but 15 of five points or fewer.  Yeah, he’ll have a nice game every now and again, but over the last three seasons he hasn’t been close to a player you would want to start every week. I don’t know why this year would be any different. There’s in increasing number of viable pass catchers in Arizona, so the percent of targets coming Fitzgerald’s way should decline this season, and he’s shown a slowly declining skill set. There really isn’t much upside here, especially why you look at the other receivers on his team and their potential.

I would take both Josh Brown and Michael Floyd over Fitzgerald. Both finished above Fitz in fantasy points just last year, Brown finishing as WR44 in his rookie year, and Floyd ranked WR34. Using the same game-by-game standards, Floyd had six games with 10 or more points, and nine games with five or fewer.  Brown and Fitz’s game by game numbers are actually very similar, but I would take Browns improving skills and rapport with quarterback Carson Palmer over Fitzgerlad.
Now evaluating whether to take Brown vs. Floyd is a much more difficult task.
Brown is getting most of the preseason hype, and really pretty good in stretches last year, including the six games Palmer was active, catching 3 of his 5 TDs in that span. It seems like Brown is expected to take a huge leap forward by most evaluators, and could even lead the team in catches this coming season.
What makes this situation fascinating, however, is that Floyd was almost that exact player headed into last season, “poised to explode” in many people’s eyes (including mine). He was looked at as a potential top 25 guy this time last year. He didn’t perform to the lofty expectations his believers hoped for last August, and his week-to-week fantasy production was extremely inconsistent, but despite terrible quarterback play after Carson Palmer’s injury, Floyd wasn’t actully that bad. Looking at the raw numbers though, his yards per catch actually increased from 16.0 to 17.9 for 2013-14, and he scored one more TD last season, despite fewer catches. He wasn’t a great or consistent fantasy option, but he wasn’t a bad receiver either. Instead, he was just in a bad situation for fantasy.
I actually think both will be good fantasy options this year, with Floyd (126 projected points) as a big game option and Brown (142 points) as a more steady producer week to week. Depending on what your roster needs and what kind of owner you are, you can decide which is the better fit for your team.

Tight End

Ladarius Green (ESPN TE 26/Undrafted, Yahoo TE22/14th Round)
Over Antonio Gates (ESPN TE13/13th Round, Yahoo TE12/12th Round)
I’m not actually too high on Green as a player, and I still think Antonio Gates is a better player on the field. However, with Gates’ four-game suspension and injury history, I would be hard pressed to take Gates over Green.
Green has shown some promise in the past and will get the opportunity to prove himself in the opening weeks of the season. Gates, on the other had, will be sitting on your fantasy team’s bench for the first four weeks, taking up a roster spot that you can use to play the waiver wire (not to mention you’ll be rostering 2 tight ends during that stretch, which isn’t fun at all). Chances are, you’ll get sick of him and will cut him before he even plays a game.
I know Gates is one of the greatest tight ends in the history of the game, and that he was the second best TE in fantasy just last year, but I see 2014 as an outlier. The majority of his fantasy production came from his 12 TDs, the most he’s had since the 2004 season, and he had 4, 7, and 7 TDs the three preceding seasons.  If we bring that 12 down to 8, still on the higher end of a full season projection, he drops from TE2 to TE6, and that’s without accounting for the four games we already know he’ll miss.
This late in the draft, I’ll take the outside chance Green has for a breakout over a suspended Gates.

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