Although the NFL season is still a couple months away, it is never too early to start strategizing for your big fantasy draft day. I will break down each division for you individually to shed some light on fantasy value. The NFC West is one of my favorite divisions to discuss at this point in time. The division contains four teams that I think are capable of making a run in the playoffs.
After being knocked out of the playoffs due to a tiebreaker last season, Arizona is looking to improve upon its already capable team. The offense finally invested in a solid quarterback last season in veteran Carson Palmer. Palmer finished as the 17th best fantasy quarterback in standard ESPN leagues. The Bruce Arians offense is no longer new. The receiving core is incredible. The offensive line is improved. All of these things contribute to what could be a promising season for Palmer. While his ceiling is a bit low, he could definitely fall into the top 12 quarterbacks, and is well worth a look as a sleeper pick, or a starter in deeper leagues.
Although Larry Fitzgerald is aging, he is still an elite wide receiver. He has the ability to out-jump defenders to catch balls, and is still quite the physical player–this is why he led the NFL in red-zone targets last season. Palmer will always first look for Fitz when the Cardinals are in the red zone. He dealt with hamstring issues last season, but this season I truly believe he is still a capable number one fantasy receiver.
Across from Fitz is third-year receiver Michael Floyd. I think Floyd is poised to have a huge season. I do not think he will be better than Fitz, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Floyd is definitely a top 20 receiver this season to me, and he will be facing a lot of single coverage across from Fitz. His yards have grown each year and he could definitely catch 75 balls. His ceiling is high, and he showed how great he could be last season. Floyd would be a great number two receiver, and an incredible number three if he falls in your draft due to his unestablished name. Two other targets to keep an eye on are John Brown and Ted Ginn, who were added to the receiving core. Brown has been talked up quite a bit this offseason and Ginn, well, we know what to expect from him.
With running back Rashard Mendenhall retired, Andre Ellington will become the feature back for the Cardinals offense. Bruce Arians said he expects Ellington to get 30 touches per week. Of course, this is a very unrealistic number, but it at least shows that Ellington will be used as much as possible. He led the league in yards per carry last season of backs with at least 100 carries (5.5 ypc). Ellington is a guy I would take with confidence in round two or three of my fantasy draft. He is a smaller back, but we have seen success from players of his size. You may want to also draft Stepfan Taylor, who very well could vulture some of the Cardinals’ rushing touchdowns.
San Fransisco 49ers
I think my early fantasy man-crush is going to Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is capable of being a top five quarterback, and I think you can get him for a much better value than that. Kaepernick does not throw the ball a whole lot, yet he has been effective both through the air and on the ground. The organization said they want to throw more, and since Kapernick has recently benefited from a huge payday, it seems the franchise is invested in him. He will mature a lot going into his second season as an NFL starter as he will be asked to make even more big plays. He also has an incredible receiving core with a healthy Michael Crabtree making a return (who I love). Anquan Boldin is back. Vernon Davis is one of the most talented tight ends of the NFL. Oh, and they added Steve Johnson, who was the number one guy for Buffalo. I think Kaepernick will be very undervalued. Let the other people in your draft reach for quarterbacks like Nick Foles, Tom Brady, and Cam Newton. If you do this, Kaepernick could fall in your lap. And he wil be better than all of those guys.
The running back situation is always interesting in San Fransisco. Each year, I feel like Frank Gore is at the end of his career. Each year, I am wrong. Even with a drop-off in carries last season, he was still efficient. Rookie Carlos Hyde may get some playing time here and there, but I believe he is only the running back of the future. I do not want to doubt Gore again, as I am sure he will have a steady workload– and he will still get touchdowns. But, draft carefully. He may be off the field for more time than ever in his career. I love him as a third running back, and you may be able to get him around round five, depending on how big your league is.
St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford was actually having a great season until he was injured. Had he kept his pace and played all 16 games, he would have finished as the number 8 quarterback in fantasy. However, he did not play all 16 games. He can start hot, but is still far from somebody I would draft. His receiving core is among the worst in the NFL.
The 2014 Rams are going to be quite the run-focused team. I love Zac Stacy, and think he is an incredible player. I thought this last season when as well, but you were able to get him really late in drafts.That won’t happen this year. He may compete with rookie Tre Mason, but I think the job will be Stacy’s. Mason will likely end up as the number two back in St. Louis, and could produce if Stacy is injured.
About that terrible receiving core– Tavon Austin is still the most interesting player on the field, due to his speed. I would only draft him as a number four receiver. Chris Givens is also a speedster, and he is capable of putting up numbers, especially with Bradford. The rest of the receivers, and tight end Jared Cook, just stay away from. Please. For your own sake. The acquisition of Kenny Britt is interesting. Britt has talent, but he has to make the team first. If he proves his health and plays to his caliber, he could be an early waiver pick-up.
The St. Louis defense is a “sleeper” in its own right. I think this defense could be a top five fantasy defense. Scratch that. It will be a top five fantasy defense.
The defending champs have a great team, but not particularly for fantasy purposes. Their defense is consistent and will probably be the first defense off the board. Aside from that, their team is somewhat unpredictable. Running back Marshawn Lynch has typically been a top fantasy pick. However, will he be able to take another season with 400 carries? Especially with a talented young back in Christine Michael behind him on the depth chart? My guess is that Lynch falls short of this season’s expectations. He could also very well get hurt. I do not wish this on anyone, but I just think Lynch is in for a tough season. He is still a good player, but he needs to be handcuffed with Christine Michael.
I think Russell Wilson is a class act and a great quarterback (as does seemingly everyone). Based on the way Pete Caroll runs his offense, however, he is a little less valuable in fantasy. He is a great back-up, and a good starter in deeper leagues. He will have a (hopefully) healthy Percy Harvin to lead his receiving core. Harvin could very well be a top fifteen receiver, but that all depends on his health. I took Harvin last season and kept him on my bench, so personally I am staying away out of frustration. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to love. He will get the ball a lot and he has a lot of upside.
You can see how I rank these players when I release my official rankings this August. Any questions? Sound off in the comments below or tweet us @SportsQuotient.