Love, Hate and Johnny Football
We come from the same place.
It's not the only reason I'm a Johnny Manziel fan. It's not the only reason I identify with him. And it's not the only reason I am writing about him.
But it is a starting place. For him, for me and for our story.
A three-star (of five) recruit out of high school, Johnny Manziel was rated the 97th-best prospect by the folks at ESPN's Recruiting Nation. Recruited by some big programs like Oregon, he wasn't a complete unknown, but he certainly wasn't on the national radar. He wasn't even on the radar of casual Texas A&M fans when, after a redshirt freshman year, Johnny beat out two others to be named the starting quarterback for the Aggies in 2012. I had never heard of him until I watched his first game, A&M's opener against Florida. And after a little while, I tweeted something to this effect: @matthewberrytmr: No idea how good he'll be, but Johnny Manziel sure is fun to watch. #A&M
Well then. The rest is, as they say, is history. The crazy numbers, beating Alabama on the road, winning the Heisman ... one helluva fun year. For him and his fans. Me very much included.
I grew up in College Station, where my parents have had season tickets to the Aggies for a few decades now. Spent pretty much every Saturday of my youth at Kyle Field with my folks, and to this day, watching A&M sports with my parents is among my favorite pastimes. My father still teaches at Texas A&M, and my mother, the Honorable Nancy Berry, is the mayor of College Station. It's the town where I joined my first fantasy league, some 30 years ago. A league for which I fly back for the auction every year. So yeah, my family's ties to College Station run deep.
So you can just imagine what a ride the past two years have been. And it should come as no shock to you that I am a Johnny Football fan. Rooting hard for him. Because I love the way he plays. Because I love what he did for the Texas A&M football program. Because I love his "screw the haters" attitude. Because watching him reminds me of watching football with my family.
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And because he was suddenly thrust into the limelight.
Yes, he was a star at his small high school in Texas, but that's nothing compared to what has happened since his freshman year in college. He is legitimately a household name in a way few football players ever get to be. And he has yet to play a down in the NFL.
Hold that thought while I tell you a couple of quick stories.
A few years ago, I went to lunch with my good friend Erin. As we slid into the booth, there was a young couple at a table right next to us, and they had a small baby with them. The tables are pretty close together, so we had to squeeze to get by, and as I did, I saw the baby and said to the guy, "Hey, cute kid." He said thanks and that's it.
Erin and I sat down and I asked her for advice. I was going through something with my then-girlfriend/now-wife and wanted her opinion. It was a pretty deep and personal conversation. So OK, an hour or so after lunch, I'm checking Twitter and I saw this tweet: "Pretty good lunch. @matthewberrytmr said I had a cute kid!"
I went into a cold sweat. The guy had not given me any acknowledgement that he had any idea who I was, I didn't sense recognition in his face ... and I'd just had this deeply personal conversation for an hour, like, two feet from him. Ugh. No idea what, if anything, he heard, but that was the moment I realized life had changed for me.
Thanks to the insane reach and popularity of both ESPN and fantasy football, I have reached a very small modicum of notoriety. I'm not bragging; it's entirely due to ESPN and would be the same for anyone in this position. I'm just the guy wearing the suit and tie, you know? Regardless, there are some people who know who I am, and as a result, when I go out in public, there's a chance someone, somewhere could recognize me, so I need to always be mindful that there is always a possibility someone is watching and possibly recording. It's a weird mindset that takes getting used to.
I took the family on a cruise recently. Was a whole thing. Took all five kids. Had a great time, but as any parent who has ever traveled with children will tell you, there are, ahem, occasional bumps. So on the cruise, my oldest is trying to get to a specific event before it closes and needs me to go with him. So we are racing down the stairs when suddenly the 9-year-old is very hungry. He wants to go eat. Now maybe he was really hungry, maybe he just wanted to annoy my oldest (cuts both ways in our house) but either way, I am now in the middle of the stairs, trying to negotiate quickly with a stubborn 9-year-old. A guy walking up the stairs, in what I assume is a "been there, fellow dad" sort of way, says to me "How's it going?" I answer a little brusquely. "Fine, thank you." I can't deal with small talk right now.
I get the 9-year-old placated somehow, we are walking off, and my oldest says "That was rude."
"What do you mean?"
"That guy recognized you. He was a fan."
"What? No, he wasn't. He was just a dad who's been there."
"He said 'Hey! Matthew Berry!'"
"He did? You sure?"
"Yeah. Totally. You didn't hear him?"
"No. I was talking to your brother. So I was rude?"
"Yeah. Like, that guy is probably saying to someone, 'Man, Matthew Berry is a jerk.'"
Except the word my kid used wasn't jerk. Sigh.
Well, first, if you're reading this, Cruise Guy, my apologies. Caught me at a bad moment. But I think about that moment, because it's that moment times a billion for someone like Johnny Manziel. Like, every 30 seconds of his life, someone is approaching, staring, filming, tweeting, pointing.
Obscure TMR trivia: Before I came to ESPN, I spent two years working with the NBA as a fantasy consultant to help their fantasy basketball business grow and doing some on air stuff for them. Love the NBA, and definitely would not be here if not for them. Anyways, the NBA is always very gracious with me, and as a result I get invited to some fun things I have no business being at. This past All-Star weekend, I get invited to a party for LeBron. There are only like 200 people at this thing, and as I'm walking around, I see tons of celebrities and loads of NBA players. Kevin Durant. Blake Griffin. Chris Bosh. Dwyane Wade. And so on. My wife and I are like numbers 199 and 200 on this list -- everyone at this party is either someone or knows someone. And when you're at a party like this, you're supposed to act like you've been there before. Don't bother the celebs, just hang out and be casual. And guys like KD and Blake walked through the party with no issue. LeBron, however, couldn't move two feet without being stopped. A hug, can I get a picture, shake your hand ... the man literally could not move. And to his credit, he was smiling, gracious and took every picture that was asked.
I had a whole new appreciation for what his life must be like. He couldn't even relax at an intimate party with a bunch of other NBA superstars. It was just nuts. And Johnny Manziel's life is like that, too. At least with LeBron, he's sort of been prepared for it, right? Been a phenom since he was 12, NBA scouts and packed gyms in high school, he's grown up with the intense scrutiny. Johnny was 19 years old when he went from a kid no one has heard of to becoming Johnny Freakin' Football. In all caps. And that's a lot. You ever do something dumb when you were 19? Because I did tons of dumb stuff when I was 19. I still do tons of dumb stuff. I've made about a billion mistakes on social media, in how I've reacted to things in public, to things at the workplace, and I'm a 44-year-old professional writer. What chance does a 19-year-old kid have to navigate that correctly? Especially since one of the very qualities that makes him so great on the field is extreme confidence and swagger? It's made him a winner on the field, and now you want him to turn it off?
So he went to Vegas. So he parties. I'm sorry. I assume as soon as you got out of college you were in bed by 9 o' clock every night, right? Especially if you had a lot of money and women throwing themselves at you? I love Johnny Football because he's real. Trust me when I tell you every athlete and celebrity does what he does. He just doesn't hide it. Good for him. So he's flawed. Who isn't? He's a 21-year-old kid having fun, and I love it. Love it all. Love the money hand gestures and the scrambling. I think the kid is a winner. If he doesn't perform on the field, OK, fine, we can talk. But until then, cut him some slack.
Because he's human.
Like all of us.
Maybe because I'm older now. Maybe because I'm a parent. Maybe because, on a super-small level, I've been through some of the same experiences Johnny has in terms of not being ready for extra scrutiny, being dumb on social media, letting some troll get the better of me or just making an error in judgment. But for whatever the reason, I try to be a lot more forgiving these days. More patient. More understanding. And desperately wishing for more kindness from everywhere in the world.
We should cut Johnny Manziel some slack. Because we should cut everyone some slack.
Fantasy football is a hobby. A game. Something we do for fun. And that's what Manziel is. He's fun.
This week in particular has been a tough one. There's a lot of very depressing real-life stuff out there these days. And when reading about it becomes too much, I like that I have a place like fantasy football to escape to. A place that's fun.
And as we meander very slowly into the 2014 edition of Love / Hate, that's my big ask of you: Keep it fun.
This whole column may seem cloying or fanboyish or too earnest, and I'm fine with that criticism and any other. Because there's not a lot I can contribute to, well, anything, especially helping the current state of affairs. But I have somehow managed to carve out one little slice of the Internet here. And this will be my most-read column of the year. So I'm taking this to say to every fantasy player reading this that our game is supposed to be fun. Treat it and the others that play it with you as such.
Before the inevitable injuries, bad beats and underperforming players start up, try to hang on to this idea: It's an escape for a lot of people. And it'd be great if you could keep that fragile oasis intact for everyone else who plays.
Don't send athletes angry tweets. Stop with insane over-the-top and not-funny message board rants. And hey, when I miss a call (and I'm gonna miss plenty), no need to tell me about it. I'll already be well aware.
It's very simple. Don't cheat. Don't be a jerk. Try to make your fantasy football league a better place. Try to follow the wise and sage-like advice of Bill S. Preston and Ted "Theodore" Logan: Be excellent to each other. And party on, dudes!
Just like Johnny Freakin' Football.
The annual guide to Love/Hate
So, I hate the terms "sleeper" and "bust." I believe there are no such things. Or rather, that there are such things, but whether a player can be a "sleeper" or a "bust" is entirely dependent on what it costs to acquire said player.
Not to get all business-y on you (or all non-English-y), but a common and basic business term is return on investment, or ROI. Let's say you were a company that made two products but had to downsize to just one. If one product sells for $1 and the other sells for 50 cents and they both sell equally well, you'd think you'd want to keep producing the $1 product, right? But what if it costs 75 cents to produce the $1 item and just 10 cents to make the 50-cent one? Well, now you're changing your tune.
Fantasy is the same way. Every player has value. It's simply about what it costs to get him. This column is all about players who, based on ESPN.com draft results for standard 10-team leagues, cost too much (or not enough) to acquire.
So please use this column as intended. It is not a sleepers-and-busts column. Rather, it's a market-inefficiency column. With puns.
So here's what I did. I went to the ESPN.com Average Draft Position page. This is a list of the average rounds where players are being drafted in ESPN.com standard 10-team leagues. I am aware that ADP varies greatly from site to site, so while you may see Montee Ball going in the first round somewhere, he's going in the third on ESPN.com, so I'm going off that list. I am a company man.
By doing it this way (round-by-round) you'll have an idea of whom is a value in each round and whom to avoid at that price. So, as I go through each round, if a player is going too low for me, he's a "Love." If he's being drafted too high, he's a "Hate." It's that simple. So yeah, just because I "love" Joique Bell this year and "hate" Marshawn Lynch does not mean I recommend drafting Bell over Lynch. It means at the 6th pick overall, I'm concerned with Lynch, and while most are waiting until the 8th round to take Bell, I don't think it's a reach to take him two or three rounds earlier.
Now, not only is it not a sleepers-and-busts list, it's also not a comprehensive list of players I really like or don't like. For example, I absolutely love Antonio Brown this year, but I have him ranked as a third rounder, which is exactly where he is going. So he doesn't make the list.
If you want a comprehensive list of whom I value and where, please check out my Top 200 rankings, which will be updated throughout the preseason.
Addressing the last (fingers crossed) of the questions I get every year, people wonder why there are so many more loves than hates. That's just the nature of the beast. It doesn't do you any good to say I hate Chad Henne. His value and rank already reflect that he is not highly thought of. I'm still going round-by-round, and, in a standard ESPN league, there are 16 rounds, so you're getting at least 16 hates. But be aware that, in general, I am from the "no such thing as a bad pick after Round 12" school of thought. So you're really choosing "hate" only from the guys who are considered at a high enough level to be drafted with big expectations, which pretty much eliminates most guys in the lower rounds.
Finally, please remember this is being written in middle of August. Only one week of preseason games have been played; camps haven't been open that long; much can and will change in the next month. Fantasy value changes all the time. Roles and opportunities, information about players and schemes, draft trends, health and results in the preseason all play a factor, and if you refuse to keep your mind open and are unwilling to change an opinion on a player once you get new info, that's a quick way to lose. And the next few weeks are crucial.
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So follow me on Twitter, become my friend on Facebook, listen to the podcast, watch "Fantasy Football Now" on Sundays at 11 a.m. on ESPN2 (there's preseason episodes every Sunday), read all the articles and ranking updates until it's time to draft, then make the decision. Or, if you choose to ignore that, don't blame me for it. Remember, only a poor craftsman blames his tool. That's all I am, your tool. Wait, that came out wrong. Which is odd, given that I've used that joke five years in a row now. Huh. Ah, what are you gonna do? I'm a slave to tradition.
Players I Love for 2014
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (going in top three, take No. 1 overall): That's right. Starting with only the most obvious name in the universe. My science fair project this year is gonna be "Will the sun come up tomorrow? A case study in probability." Peterson is going anywhere from one to three overall and as you know, the first two picks of your draft are crucial to your success. For me, it comes down to Norv. Forget Cleveland last year, where there was no talent at running back. The final three years Norv Turner was in San Diego, only the Saints had more targets and receptions to their running backs than the Chargers.
I spoke to both Norv and Vikings general manager Rick Spielman at the NFL combine this year, and numbers like 50, 60 and 70 receptions for Peterson were thrown around. Did you catch those names I just dropped? No matter. All Day is gonna be doing the catching. I'll take closer to 50 than 70 balls, but the fact remains: They want to (and will) get him in space where he can catch the ball and won't continually run into eight men in the box. There have been only two seasons where Peterson has caught at least 40 balls: 2012 and 2009. They happen to be the two best fantasy seasons of his career and two of the three seasons in which he's played all 16 games.
Matt Forte, RB, Bears (going fifth overall, I have at No. 4): Another obvious name. Don't worry. I'll get to some deeper folks soon enough. But again, every pick matters, and ESPN drafters are taking Peyton Manning ahead of Matt Forte. I love Manning, but I have Forte ahead of him as I believe there is a rock-solid top tier of four running backs this year, not a top three, and that quartet includes Matt Forte. Saw someone take Forte No. 1 in an industry "expert draft" and I was asked about it on the radio. Yes, that's the kind of thing I get asked about on the radio. I get very different interviews than, say, Jennifer Lawrence. Just once, I'd like someone to ask me who I'm wearing. Or if that was me, canoodling with my co-star? Sure, my co-star is Tim Hasselbeck, but still. Someone could ask. Anyway, I said it's not something I would have done, but I can defend it. Healthwise, he's the safest of the elite, with the most games played among them the past four seasons. The argument against Forte has always been he doesn't get the ball at the goal line. Then Marc Trestman showed up last year and all that changed. Nine of Forte's 12 touchdowns last year -- NINE -- were scored from inside an opponent's 10-yard line, which was tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. He also had 25 total rushing attempts inside an opponent's 10-yard line, fifth-most in the NFL and more than Adrian Peterson, among others.
Montee Ball, RB, Broncos (going in the third, I have as a first-rounder): At first glance, Montee Ball goes against everything I believe in, including, but not limited to, having only one "e" at the end of a first name. I preach safety in the first and he's anything but. Young player, completely unproven (mostly on the bench last year; at best he was the lesser half of a RBBC in the second half), out for the entire preseason with an appendectomy. But look a little closer and the thing that isn't unproven is this: Peyton Manning's running backs get incredibly good looks. Last year, 80 percent of Knowshon Moreno's runs came with six or fewer guys in the box. That's an insane amount. And Manning teams -- he's basically calling the plays at this point (Omaha!) -- run when they are in close. In the two years since Manning came to Denver, only three teams have more runs or rushing touchdowns inside an opponent's 10-yard line than the Denver Broncos. And they've done it with talent that isn't close to what Ball (a touchdown machine in college) has. Montee will be ballin' so hard this year you'll ignore that terrible joke and thank me later.
Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, WR, Broncos and Cowboys (late second, early second): Cheating here because I have them as high second-rounders and they are going in the second (though later). I don't really have anything else to write, so just wanted to tell you both are gonna have monster years, and I've got no problem with either in the first round of a 12-team league, and the difference between them and Calvin Johnson is not very big.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers (third, second): Injury-prone. Too many weapons in Green Bay. They're gonna run more with Eddie Lacy. Did a lot of his production last year while Randall Cobb was out. I don't know -- what's your favorite knock on Jordy Nelson? Whatev's. He's an elite talent with an even better quarterback throwing to him. Over the past three years he's had 36 games where he and Aaron Rodgers where both on the field. Take the per-game averages, put them on a 16-game pace and it's over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, which last year would have been two points fewer than Dez Bryant. Last year, in the nine games Nelson and Rodgers played together, Nelson averaged almost nine targets, almost 100 yards and almost a touchdown per game. Over a 16-game season, that's over 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns, which last year would have been two points better than Demariyus Thomas. He's the only wide receiver other than Julio Jones that is going outside the top five at the position but has a legit shot of being the top wide receiver in next year's fantasy drafts.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals (third/fourth; second): I've seen him go late in the second in some other places, but on ESPN, he's going around pick 31, which is the first pick of the fourth. And is way too low for me. You know what he can do as a pass-catcher: 56 receptions last year on 69 targets (!), over 500 yards, three receiving scores ... but his rushing intrigues me as well. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is a fan of the run game. Last time he called plays, first as the offensive coordinator and then head coach in Oakland in 2010 and 2011, only three teams in the NFL had more rushing attempts or rushing touchdowns, and no team in the NFL had more rushing yards. Besides, what's Hue gonna do, let Andy Dalton throw it? Exactly. Jeremy Hill might vulture some touchdowns, but it's worth noting that of Bernard's five rushing touchdowns last year, four came from within an opponent's 10 yard line.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (fourth, third/late second): Health, schmealth. A dominant player at a position with not a lot of them, I'm OK rolling the dice in a 10-team league because of the weekly advantage he gives you and the depth of the replacement pool if (when?) he gets injured. Remember, it's a weekly game, and once you get past the elite difference-making running backs and wide receivers (which is where you are in the third round), give me a guy that allows me to name my team "Gronk if you're horny."
Victor Cruz, WR, Giants (fifth, fourth): I'm no Eli fan, but there's no way he's as bad as he was last year. Cruz scored just four touchdowns, and three of them came in Week 1. That'll change. A perfect fit for the offense Ben McAdoo wants to run in New York, he will excel in the short, quick-passing game they are planning, and they will line him all over, create mismatches and let him outrun everyone.
Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals (sixth, third): Love me the Andre Ellington. Liked his Facebook page, have the poster, made him my contact in case of emergency. Related: Does anyone have Andre Ellington's cell? So yeah, I'm a fan, but I'm not the only one. Bruce Arians is saying they are going to "build their offense around this guy." A big-play guy, he had eight rushes last year of 20 yards or more, the same amount as Adrian Peterson and more than Jamaal Charles, among others. And they both had twice as many carries. To that point, no running back had a higher percentage of big plays (10-plus yards) than Ellington.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington (sixth, fifth/sixth): Seems ESPN drafters are just as high on him as I am, but I just wanted to throw down my support for where he is going. As disappointing as last year was for him, he still averaged 15 fantasy points a game. He has one of the best supporting casts in football, a pass-happy coach who made Andy Dalton (Andy Dalton!) a top-five fantasy quarterback and, of course, there's the rushing numbers. If he plays all 16 games, he's a top-five QB this year, easy.
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens (sixth, fifth): My job is to judge the man on his value in fantasy football, so I'll just say that he looks to be a lot healthier (and thinner) than last year, he is a good fit for Gary Kubiak's scheme and the two-game suspension will keep his draft day cost depressed. Make sure you grab Bernard Pierce too, but I don't believe he's done yet.
Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers (sixth, fourth/fifth): Healthy Michael Crabtree, a (Colin Kaepernick) nation turns its eyes to you. Last two years, when both were in the lineup, Crabtree averaged almost eight targets a game.
Roddy White, WR, Falcons (fifth/sixth, fourth): He's an OBPTNWLBWHYWYL (Old Boring Player That Nobody Will Like But Will Help You Win Your League). There are a number of these guys this year that you'll sort of draft with a sigh, preceded by an "I guess I'll take ..." Not sexy, no upside, maybe they burned you in the past. They are old and they are not trendy. What they are, however, are bargains. So what if everyone yawns when you take him? So what if he burned you on twitter? Healthy Julio, healthy Roddy, rebuilt offensive line -- I'm back on Atlanta's offense this year and you should be too.
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Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants (seventh, fifth/late fourth): As of this writing, he's going at pick 61 in ESPN drafts, but that's gonna rise as he keeps playing well in the preseason. He will be a PPR monster (Eli is going to be mayor of Dump-Off City this year, you watch) and again, in the West Coast offense they wanna run (up-tempo, no huddle, quick slants) he's actually a great fit. He's also going to stay on the field for most of every series. I hear the arguments about how bad the Giants offensive line is going to be, but last year, behind the Raiders offensive line (fourth-worst in run blocking per Pro Football Focus), Jennings was awesome sauce. Starting in Week 9 -- the first week he got 15 or more carries -- Jennings was the 11th-best running back in fantasy in terms of points, 11th in terms of total yards and tied for ninth in touchdowns. Playing for the Raiders. Yeah, maybe Andre Williams vultures some scores, I get that, but when they get in close, they have no red zone target except for Rueben Randle (that's called foreshadowing, kids). Last five years, under Tom Coughlin, Giants running backs have the second-most touchdowns in the league. When they get close they run, and that's not changing this year with their personnel. Will be enough to go around.
Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens (seventh, fifth): Two words: Andre Johnson. The lead wide receiver in Gary Kubiak's offense has always put up numbers, as play action is a huge part of what those offense do (Texans had the sixth-most play-action snaps in the NFL during the Kubiak era). He's the best deep guy they have. As I stated in "100 Facts", Smith set career highs in targets, receptions and yards on deep throws last season ... and yet had zero deep touchdowns. He had at least five deep touchdowns in both of his first two NFL seasons. As I also stated in "100 Facts," this is the third straight year I have pumped Smith. I might have a problem.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings (seventh, fifth): In Norv I trust. In last year's "Love/Hate," I had Josh Gordon as a love, suggesting you reach at least three rounds earlier to get him. You're welcome, America. (Of course, I also had Dwayne Bowe. Sorry 'bout that). Anyway, here was one of the stats I used to pump up Gordon: "Over the past five years, only the Colts attempted more passes of at least 15 yards downfield than Norv Turner's Chargers, and Turner is now the Browns' offensive coordinator." A year later, Norv is now in Minnesota, but while his home address has changed, his penchant for throwing deep hasn't. Patterson looks like a video game out there. This is the last year you'll be able to get him outside the first two rounds. Did I recently legally change one of my daughters' name to Cordarrelle? Maybe.
Steven Jackson, RB, Falcons (eighth, seventh): Fantasy. Kryptonite. (Copyright Bill Simmons). I can't resist him. Sigh. And he's already banged up. If you draft him, you need to make sure you get Devonta Freeman or Antone Smith, whoever wins the backup job. (I'm betting on Freeman). That said -- six touchdowns in his final six games last year on a terrible team going nowhere. Rebuilt offensive line, healthy Julio and Roddy to keep the safeties from cheating up, he won't cost very much and he's got a shot to be a very productive flex back with RB2 upside some weeks. OBPTNWLBWHYWYL.
Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots (eighth, fifth): We know it's always dangerous to count on a New England running back, but I like Vereen because of his role in the passing game. That's not gonna change. His 69 targets last year were fifth-most on the team -- and he played in only eight games! One more game than Gronk, three more targets. Over 16 games, that's a 126-target pace. And at his career catch rate of 70 percent, that's 89 receptions. Small sample caveats and all that, but in the three games he played with Gronk in the lineup, he averaged nine targets. They didn't go away when Gronk was healthy. That's right. When I hang out with my buddies, I talk about things like Shane Vereen's career catch percentage. Just like Jennifer Lawrence does, I'm sure.
Joique Bell, RB, Lions (eighth, late fourth/fifth): The Lions running back I want this year (you'll never guess who is in "hate") and I don't think it's all that close. Wanna win a bar bet? Here's a good one. Over the last two years, Reggie Bush has 89 receptions. And Joique Bell has 105. Yeah. Last two years, Bush has 10 rushes inside an opponent's 10-yard line and two touchdowns from that distance. Bell has 12 rushes and seven touchdowns. He's a better fit for the new offense Joe Lombardi wants to run (basically, a version of the Saints offense with a lot more two tight end sets. Read more here from NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein). They say put your money where your mouth is, and the fact that the new regime in Detroit signed Bell to more guaranteed money than Bush this offseason speaks volumes.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos (ninth, sixth/seventh): There's 136 Peyton Manning targets up for grabs in Denver. Just because it's obvious doesn't mean it's not true.
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers (ninth, seventh/eighth): Sometimes, you don't have to be the prettiest girl in the bar, you just have to be the only girl in the bar.
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints (10th, seventh): Last year, Thomas caught the quietest 77 balls this side of Kendall Wright. Meanwhile, Darren Sproles and his 89 targets are in Philly. Yes, some of those looks will go to Brandin Cooks, but not all of them. Ignore the talk of Thomas being third on the depth chart. Or better yet, encourage it, because it'll only help drive his price down further. He's the best passing-down running back on a team that throws. (Career receptions for Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram combined: 24 in 47 games). He's gonna have the ball in his hands a lot.
Kendall Wright, WR, Titans (10th, seventh): Speaking of the Quiet Man ... dude had 94 receptions last year. Only two touchdowns. There were only nine wideouts who caught 90 or more balls last year. Eight of them had at least five touchdowns with the average being nine touchdowns. The average. I'm not predicting that for Wright, but I am a believer in Ken Whisenhunt's ability to get the most out of his talent, the most recent example being last year's San Diego Chargers. They are going to move Wright around a lot, and while I am on board with the Justin Hunter sleeper talk (more foreshadowing!), make no mistake, Wright will be the focal point of this offense again. And with a more reasonable touchdown total (based on volume of targets), he's a top-25 wide receiver who won't cost nearly that much.
Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys (10th, seventh): Josh Gordon. Calvin Johnson. Torrey Smith. Riley Cooper. Sorry, just listing the only wide receivers in the NFL last year that caught at least 40 balls and averaged more than Terrance Williams' 16.7 yards per catch. When I spoke to Jason Garrett at the combine, his eyes lit up only when I asked about one player. Wanna guess who? Under Scott Linehan last year, the Lions threw the ball 634 times. With the Cowboys defense, I'll take the over this year and they can't all go to Dez. Williams is the real deal.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills (10th, eighth): Gonna get the ball on the goal line and be a legit part of time-share with C.J. Spiller. People forget he was actually a top-10 fantasy running back last year after I put him as a later-round Love, making him a repeat OBPTNWLBWHYWYL .
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears (11th, eighth): If you decide to wait on quarterback, Cutler is a great one to grab toward the end of the starting QB run. Second year in the Trestman system, the talent that surrounds Cutler is as good as any team in the league. If you wanna play fast and loose with numbers, combining Cutler and McCown fantasy points last year would give you the third-highest scoring quarterback by ESPN scoring. Cutler is still injury-prone and he's not mistake-free either, but he doesn't need to be a top-three QB at this price.
Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, QB, Patriots and Falcons: Brady is going as QB No. 10 in ESPN drafts and Matt Ryan is being drafted as QB No. 12. That's nuts. See "100 Facts" for my thoughts and stats on both Brady and Ryan and why they are both due for big bounce-back seasons.
Riley Cooper, WR, Eagles (11th, ninth): I don't know, do you think Jeremy "20 games missed the past three years" Maclin stays healthy? Starting in Week 9, when Nick Foles took over full-time, Cooper had 27 receptions on 47 targets, 521 yards and six scores. Now, three of them came in that crazy Oakland game, but still. That's a full-season pace of almost 1,000 yards, 50 receptions on 80 targets and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers would have been good for the 14th-best wide receiver in fantasy last year. I expect some regression in the touchdown pace, but so what? He's being drafted outside the top 40 at wide receiver. I'm gonna repeat that because it's a helpful trick in writing to emphasize something. Outside the top 40. You're telling me he can't get to top 30? Top 25? Wherever he lands, it's gonna be at a profit.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings (11th, 10th): He's Norvelous.
Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins (12th, sixth): (Ducks) I know. I know, OK, I know? (Ducks again). Look, if you'll just let me (ducks again. Starts deeking back and forth). Just if you can give me one second -- (gets hit on arm, wipes it off, keeps moving) OK, I hear you, just (just getting pelted at this point) ... Fine, quickly, it'll-be-a-better-offense-this-year-with-new-offensive-coordinator-Bill-Lazor-from-the-Eagles-using-Miller-in-the-McCoy-role-and-his-only-competition-is-Knowshon-Moreno-who-isn't-close-to-the-talent-of-Lamar-Miller-and-I-still-believe-in-his -- OK fine, fine fine. You win. I'm leaving now. Stop. I'm leaving. (Runs off stage).
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington (12th, seventh/eighth): Health is a concern, but with DeSean Jackson stretching the field and Pierre Garcon demanding attention, the middle of the field will be wide open for Reed. In today's episode of playing fast and loose with simple math, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert combined for 126 tight end targets in Jay Gruden's offense last season. If you combine those two into one player, only Jimmy Graham had more targets among tight ends. IF he can stay on the field, Reed is gonna have a big year.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints (12th, seventh/eighth): As the hype continues to build, there's no way he remains a 12th-rounder. So just going on record as thinking he is worth a look in the seventh-to-eighth round on upside alone, but if it gets too crazy (or higher than that), there's no potential for profit. The talent is immense and the team/scheme is a great fit, so if you get a shot at him in this area, take it.
Shonn Greene, RB, Titans (14th, 11th/12th): Another OBPTNWLBWHYWYL, he's not very good, but he's going to be better than a 14th-rounder. Still has a chance to start and get decent playing time on a team that will run the ball.
Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles (14th, 12th): Excuse me. Pardon me. Can I just, yes, right there, if you could squeeze, right and if you over there will just move and I'll just duck here and ma'am, if you could bend slightly and hang onto the rail ... ah! Perfect. Yep. Plenty of room left on the bandwagon.
The other trendy 14th & 15th-rounders: I'd be cool with any of these guys in the 10th or 11th: Kelvin Benjamin (Wow. I'm usually not a big rookie wide receiver type); Christine Michael and Carlos Hyde should be two of the first "true handcuff" guys off the board; I'm on the Justin Hunter bandwagon; I do think Jeremy Hill is going to be better than a lot of people think (again, due to the Hue Jackson tendencies); Andre Williams actually needs to be drafted in the eighth or ninth round, not the 16th where he's going here. And it's not if, but when will Ladarius Green be a stud fantasy tight end? I say second half of this year.
Other receiving votes:
These are players going outside the top 14 rounds. I advocate going defense and kicker in rounds 15 and 16 (the last two rounds) of an ESPN standard draft, so for my draft strategy, consider anyone being drafted outside the first 14 rounds as being "undrafted."
That said -- some people are in deeper leagues, or draft the Seattle defense earlier or got distracted by their 9-year-old because he just taught your 2½-year-old twin daughters how to open the magic marker box and they are currently going to town on your walls, so you ran out of time and got put on auto pick and somehow wound up with a defense or kicker you didn't want. Just to pull a completely random example out of thin air.
So for all of you, here's some players I think should or could be drafted depending on team need or personal preference. I don't advocate more than one QB but maybe you want two. Or need another tight end. Or want more upside running backs and/or wide receivers. I've grouped them by position in no real particular order (read my rankings for where I would slot them).
Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals: Over the final seven games last year, only Peyton Manning had more passing yards, only Peyton and Aaron Rodgers averaged more passing yards per game, and only six quarterbacks had more touchdowns.
Geno Smith, QB, Jets: I know. But while there were some brutal moments last year, he also had five 20-point games. More than Tony Romo, Andrew Luck, same number as Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. Second year in the league, much improved supporting cast.
James White, RB, Patriots: Vereen has had health issues, Steven Ridley can't hold onto the ball and we know Bill Belichick has no issue throwing whoever he wants in there.
Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers: Feel strongly about this one. Really talented back who is going to get more work than people think. Martin will get 65 percent or so of the RB touches, but Sims is gonna contribute sooner than later. Very good player; think Matt Forte. [Editor's Note: Sims had ankle surgery in mid-August and is now expected to miss most or all of the 2014 season.]
Lance Dunbar, RB, Cowboys: Very good pass-catching running back on a team that is going to throw a ton. Not a pure handcuff to Murray (he'd split with Josepth Randle) but certainly, being a backup to an injury-prone running back isn't the worst thing for your fantasy value.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons: See Jackson, Steven.
Donald Brown, RB, Chargers: The Chargers will be more of a three-headed monster than folks realize, and between the history of injury and/or fumbling we've seen from Ryan Mathews in the past, "Dammit Donald" could easily have a larger role.
Chris Polk, RB, Eagles: Polk, not Darren Sproles, is the McCoy handcuff you want. Would be top 10 if anything happened to McCoy.
Knile Davis, RB, Chiefs: Speaking of guys who would be top 10 if something happened to the guy in front of them ...
Bryce Brown, RB, Bills: Talented player who is probably the Bills' starting running back next year. If not sometime this season, given the injury history of both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
Theo Riddick, RB, Lions: I am really not a Reggie Bush fan this year. And I think some Lions coaches agree with me.
Andrew Hawkins, WR, Browns: Assuming Josh Gordon is suspended for a length of time, they're still gonna throw to someone. I say it's Hawkins.
Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers: Lost rookie year, but loads of talent and one of the reasons the Steelers let Emmanuel Sanders walk.
Harry Douglas, WR, Falcons: With Tony Gonzalez gone, Atlanta will go three-wide a lot more this year.
Greg Jennings, WR, Vikings: If Matt Cassell wins the job, then I like Jennings. His full-season pace in games played with Cassell was 88 receptions, 1,018 yards and eight touchdowns. Those numbers would have been two points better than Larry Fitzgerald last year.
Reuben Randle, WR, Giants: The only real red-zone threat they have in the passing game.
Players I Hate for 2014
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks (going in first, I have as a second-rounder): Not to get all technical on you, but Marshawn Lynch gives me something those in the medical profession call "the heebie jeebies." There's certainly nothing to point to in terms of his production last year. He was a stud like he always is. For me, it's a combo of things. The workload is the obvious one. Since coming to Seattle in 2010, including playoff games, no player in the NFL has carried the ball more. Three straight years of at least 250 rushes and as I noted in "100 Facts," history has not been kind to running backs who come into a year with three straight seasons of at least 250 carries. For example, last year that list was Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and Steven Jackson. How'd they work out for you? The Skittles thing is cute and all but seriously, shouldn't a NFL running back who wants to get paid eat a lot healthier? You hear all these off-the-field issues, he had the brief hold-out, showed up out of shape, they have really good (I mean really good) backups behind him. I always say I'd rather jump off the bandwagon a year too early than a year too late. Lynch will probably be great again this year. But since it costs me a first-round pick to enjoy it, it won't be on my team.
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers (top-14 pick, third round): Here's the quote new Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford gave the Tampa Bay Times this summer. "I think you have to alternate," Tedford said. "Even when we had two 1,000-yard rushers (at California), J.J. Arrington was a 2,000-yard rusher and we had a couple times guys had a thousand yards apiece. But I don't believe that one back can carry the load. It's just too physical. I think you probably need to have two to three guys to bring different things to the table." J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen ... Jeff Tedford certainly had success with running backs in college. Key words is backs. Plural. Lead back on Tedford's college teams got about 60 percent of the touches and I think that's what Martin gets. Now, running backs can have a lot of fantasy value on 60 percent of the carries, but will Martin? Not to the tune of being a top-14 player he won't, which is where he's going.
Reggie Bush, RB, Lions (third, sixth): See Bell, Joique. Will have a much different role this year in Joe Lombardi's offense. He's gonna be in the Darren Sproles role, which means he's still a fine pick for PPR (though, again, not as good as Bell). But taking him in the third in a standard non-PPR league is officially "whoa crazy crazy."
Ben Tate, RB, Browns (fourth, sixth): I get the argument. A perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme (same thing he ran in Houston, basically) this is a team that will need to run and if Johnny Manziel is the quarterback, even better, as mobile QBs have traditionally helped create room for their running backs. But Tate has missed eight games the past three years (not to mention the entire first season he was drafted) and if you add in the games he was less than 100 percent and on the injury report that number goes up, if my math is correct, to three billion. I keep hearing Terrance West's name too much for my liking, especially when Tate is going ahead of guys such as Andre Ellington and Rashad Jennings. If you're gonna roll the dice on a talented but injury-prone player in this round, why wouldn't it be C.J. Spiller (currently going four picks later), who we have seen as a top-10 back in this league? Too rich for my blood.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington (fifth, sixth): Great player I am thrilled to have on my favorite NFL team, but if we are talking fantasy, people expecting a repeat of last year will be disappointed. He scored nine touchdowns on 82 receptions. Prior to last year, he'd never had more than 62 receptions in a season and here are his career touchdown totals, starting in 2008: 2, 9, 6, 4, 2, 9. He's not a huge touchdown guy traditionally, there are better red-zone options than him in Washington and, as much as I love RGIII, deep-ball accuracy is something he struggled with last year. Taking Jackson at WR 14, ahead of guys such as Pierre Garcon, Victor Cruz, Roddy White and Keenan Allen, among others, is putting too much faith in last year's numbers.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers (fifth, sixth/seventh): Been saying this on the podcast for a while., San Diego will be a three-headed monster at running back this year and Ryan Mathews is no sure thing to lead it. They signed Donald Brown to real money; he's not gonna just be hanging out, waiting until Mathews gets injured (still a real possibility, last year notwithstanding). I love this stat from "100 Facts": Last year, Mathews and Danny Woodhead converted just 13-of-71 opportunities in the red zone (18 percent). Meanwhile, Donald Brown was the only running back in the league to have at least 15 red-zone opportunities and converting at least one third of them for touchdowns. He was 6-for-18 (33 percent). Trust me when I tell you the San Diego coaches are well aware of this. Given what it'll cost to acquire each guy this year, I'd much rather have Brown (ADP of 135) than Mathews (ADP of 47).
Seattle D/ST (sixth round, 11th): I'm OK with reaching for Seattle's defense. Feel they are that good. Reaching in the 11th round, not the sixth! They're great but they were less than a point a game better than Carolina and only one point a game better than Kansas City, neither of whom were drafted last year. I always wait until the second-to-last round to pick my defense for a lot of reasons, this fact being one of them: Over the past four years, only five of the teams drafted as a top-10 defense finished the year as a top-10 defense. Drafting a defense in the sixth is nuts.
Trent Richardson, RB, Colts (sixth, late seventh/eighth): My friend Ron Shandler is one of the best fantasy baseball minds ever and a seminal figure in the fantasy sports industry. He is known for many theories in fantasy baseball, one of them being "draft skills, not roles." The idea being, of course, that over a long season, skills win out and roles can change. And that's my big problem with Richardson (and, coming soon, Bishop Sankey!). The big argument for him is "he's the guy!" Well, he was the guy last year too, and Donald Brown was better than him. I hear ya on how good he was his rookie year, but ... was he? Ran for less than 1,000 yards and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, his fantasy value was carried by 12 touchdowns and a whopping 70 targets in the pass game. Don't think he's scoring 12 times this year and maybe he gets that much volume this year, but I'd hate to count on that, especially given all the other pass-catchers at Andrew Luck's disposal this year. The past two years they've said they want to be a power running team. And the past two years they've been 22nd and 23rd in rushing attempts. Read this blog from NFL Nation's Mike Wells, then tell me if you still think they're gonna run a ton. With a straight face.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts (seventh, eighth): I swear, I actually really like the Colts this year. And I absolutely love Hilton's talent. The best wide receiver on the Colts, and it's not close. Here's my issue on him for fantasy: inconsistency. He led the Colts in targets last year. In fact, starting in Week 9 (after Reggie Wayne went down), Hilton averaged nine targets a game. His 84 targets from Week 9 on was the seventh-most in the NFL. And here were his point totals in those games: 30, 13, 4, 3, 4, 0, 7, 5, 15. One great week, two very solid weeks, five brutal weeks. And again, that was while he was seeing the seventh-most targets in the NFL. Reggie Wayne is back. So is Dwayne Allen (don't discount that!). They added Hakeem Nicks. Da'Rick Rogers is coming on. There's no way he sees the kind of volume he did last year where, again, he was wildly inconsistent. He'll have four or five awesome games this year but a bunch of stinkers as well and, given the other high-upside guys you have to pass on to take Hilton. Cordarrelle Patterson, Torrey Smith and Michael Floyd are all in the same ADP area code, and I'd rather have any of them.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks (seventh, 12th): Mark Sanchez. Brandon Weeden. Chad Henne. Sorry. Just listing some of the quarterbacks who have more 300-yard games the past two years than Russell Wilson. He has two. In 32 games, Russell Wilson has thrown for 300 yards twice. Exhibit A in why real football often differs from fantasy, I think Russell Wilson is a pretty good NFL QB. I also think he's an overrated fantasy QB. Yes, he finished eighth in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, but that's more a result of playing all 16 games than anything else. Remember, we play a weekly game and on a points-per-game basis, he was 13th last year, averaging just .13 points more per game than Alex Smith. The Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with the 2nd-lowest passing play percentage in the NFL. If you're Pete Carroll, why are you changing that? Yell "Percy Harvin" at me all you want, but Harvin, who is no guarantee to stay healthy, has never had a 1,000-yard receiving season in his career. Need more? Over the past two years, the Seahawks have the second slowest offensive pace of any team. They are in no hurry. And when they get close? They run. Wilson threw the ball 22 times inside an opponent's 10-yard line. That was tied for 19th in the league and only two more than Sam Bradford, who, you know, played seven games last year. Not a top-10 QB this year, despite being drafted like one.
Carolina D/ST (eighth, 15th): See D/ST, Seattle.
Matt Prater, K, Broncos (ninth, 16th): I mean, come on people. Really? I'm sure people think I am cherry-picking here and taking an easy "hate" but I don't define the average draft positions. These are based on real ESPN.com drafts. And in the millions of ESPN drafts, Matt Prater is going, on average, in the ninth round. I could tell you the stat I mentioned in Manifesto ... that, on average, the best kicker is worth about two points more a game. That last year, Stephen Gostkowski had one of the three highest-scoring season for a kicker since 1960. He was a top-10 kicker in 11 weeks, the most for a kicker since 2004. Which sounds impressive until you look at it another way: One of the best kicker seasons in fantasy history and there were still five weeks where he shouldn't have been started. But it's not just about the unpredictable nature of kickers or the statistically small difference between kicker No. 1 and No. 10. It's also about opportunity cost. Look at who you are passing on in the eighth and ninth rounds for a defense or kicker: Michael Floyd, Sammy Watkins, Joique Bell, Jeremy Maclin, Reggie Wayne, Emmanuel Sanders, Pierre Thomas ... lots of high upside plays or solid veterans that will help you with bye-week depth and are undervalued. If you draft Matt Prater in the ninth round, then I have failed you. Your parents have failed you. And yes, America has failed you.
Anquan Boldin, WR, 49ers (10th, 13th): There's nothing wrong with Anquan Boldin. He's fine. Professional wide receiver on a good team. But .... meh. You know? Meh. Whatevs, dude. It goes more to draft philosophy than anything, but for me, Boldin is what he is. Maybe less. With Crabtree there for the full year, the addition of Stevie Johnson, Vernon Davis ... does Boldin get 129 targets again? For comparison sake, the year before, Michael Crabtree got 127 targets playing all 16 games. Just feel like there's no upside here and in the 10th round, I'd rather take a flyer on a guy who could explode. Not literally, of course. Terrance Williams, Kendall Wright, Mike Wallace (this year's DeSean Jackson in Bill Lazor's offense?), Cecil Shorts are all going within 10 picks of Boldin and I'd much rather take a flier on any of them. Winners don't settle for guys like Anquan Boldin and you're a winner, kid. You just don't know it yet.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers (11th, 13th): Not part of the goal-line package (it's gonna be Cam and Tolbert), on the wrong side of 30, bad offensive line and part of a three-headed RBBX monster. Yet somehow going ahead of better-upside running backs such as Lamar Miller and Khiry Robinson. I like him. I just want him on your team, not mine. Is that wrong?
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Colts (12th, 14th): Remember when he used to be Hakeem Nicks? Sigh. (Side note: I swear! I don't hate the Colts! Promise!)
'Fantasy Life - The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who's Lived It'
Between celebrating every aspect of fantasy -- the trash talk, the trophies, the insane draft-day locations, the punishments, the clever attempts at cheating and surprisingly uplifting stories -- Matthew Berry chronicles his journey from a 14-year-old player to ESPN's senior fantasy analyst.
Eli Manning, QB, Giants (13th, Shouldn't be drafted: Nineteen different quarterbacks are being drafted in the first 14 rounds of at least 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues. There is absolutely no need for this. If you have a quarterback where you are concerned about health -- maybe RGIII, Cutler or Romo -- OK, fine. I can see grabbing a backup. But if you ever need to start Eli, your season has gone horribly, horribly wrong. He may have a decent matchup here or there but Eli -- or someone similar -- will always be available on your waiver wire. I'd rather use that roster spot on a running back or wide receiver with upside. This year, you can't have too many running backs.
And with that, Love Hate 2014 is in the books. Well, book. Not plural. And not even a book, because who reads books anymore. Other than "Fantasy Life," now in paperback with three new chapters. Ha! Snuck a plug in. You may be prepping for your draft but I am in midseason form, my Internet friend. Happy drafting.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thinks strange things are afoot at the Circle K. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. You may also have heard: He has written a book.
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Berry: Love, hate and good cheer
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- Week 17 flex rankings
- Harris: Week 17 free-agent finds
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