Fitz on Fantasy: An Absurdly Early 2014 Fantasy Football Mock Draft

The end of the fantasy football season is at hand. But for the avid FF devotee, the end of the 2013 simply heralds the beginning of the 2014 season.

It’s still a few days before Christmas 2013, but I thought it might be fun to take a ridiculously early guess at what 2014 fantasy football drafts might look like eight months from now. What follows is a six-round mock draft. But before we dig in, a few quick notes:

— This is a true mock draft, not a ranking of players. In other words, a lot of these picks are based on what a team in a particular draft slot had done in earlier rounds.

— This mock doesn’t include anyone from the 2014 rookie class. The value of rookies is so heavily dependent on where they land, which makes it difficult to project potential fantasy value when you can’t match a rookie with a team. Also, as of this writing, we don’t know which underclassmen will make themselves eligible for the draft.

— The last time I did a ridiculously early mock draft, a few readers complained that I overvalued running backs. Guilty as charged. My RB favoritism probably reflected the paradigms in the leagues in which I play, which tend to be somewhat RB-centric. This time around, I tried to be more mindful of how drafts go in typical leagues. (That said, I do believe the scales tilt slightly toward RBs in most leagues.)

OK, let’s get started …

1st Round

RB Jamaal Charles — It’s possible that some owners will consider Adrian Peterson in this spot, but Charles is such a perfect fit in Andy Reid’s offense and is putting up outrageous, Priest Holmes-caliber numbers for the Chiefs. If there any question Charles will continue to thrive if healthy?

RB Adrian Peterson — After turning in a season for the ages in 2012, Peterson followed it up with mere excellence. It doesn’t seem to matter that the Vikings have been unable to solve their quarterback problem; Peterson just keeps churning out big numbers despite the lack of offensive balance. After Purple Jesus came back from a devastating knee injury and ran for 2,000-plus yards last year, it seems silly to be concerned about his latest injury, a mid-foot ailment, but I suppose it’s one possible justification for bypassing Peterson with the No. 1 pick.

RB LeSean McCoy — This all-purpose yardage machine has thrived in Chip Kelly’s offense. If he repeats the yardage totals and boosts the TD count, he’ll be a fantasy MVP candidate.

RB Matt Forte — It appears that there are four clearly elite running backs, and Forte is the final member of the Four Horsemen. Marc Trestman’s offense really suits Forte. Running backs have always caught a lot of passes under Trestman, and Forte was already one of the top pass-catching RBs in the league before Tresty came along. As a runner, Forte is on pace to establish a new career high in rushing yardage at some point before halftime of Sunday night’s game against the Eagles.

QB Peyton Manning — Generally, I’m not comfortable with the idea of taking an older quarterback this high, but Peyton’s 2013 numbers grab you by the lapels. The Denver passing game is a finely tuned machine. The Broncos might need to find replacement parts for free-agents-to-be Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, but there shouldn’t be a significant drop in overall productivity.

RB Eddie Lacy — For you young’uns who weren’t around for the Earl Campbell era, Lacy offers a taste of what it was like to watch Campbell at his bone-crunching best. Lacy is an absolute load. His rookie numbers would look even better if he hadn’t missed all of one game and all but a couple minutes of another due to a concussion. A mid-first-round value? Yes, I think this is where Lacy belongs.

RB Marshawn Lynch — It seems disrespectful to put him behind Lacy, but running backs this physical tend not to age well. That’s the only case to be made against Lynch, because you certainly can’t argue with the numbers.

WR Josh Gordon — I suspect that Calvin Johnson is still going to be the first wide receiver to come off the board in most leagues, but Gordon has turned into a monster, and I prefer the monster who’s still ascending to one whose career has already crested. It’s amazing what Gordon has done this season while playing with a series of backup-caliber QBs, and after missing two games due to a suspension. Some owners will be skittish about making such a big investment in a player who comes with the looming threat of a longer-term suspension. After owning Gordon this season, it’s a risk I’d be willing to take.

WR Calvin Johnson — No signs of slippage here. Megatron isn’t going to match last year’s career-high 1,964 receiving yards, but he’s scored 12 TDs in 13 games after finding the end zone only five times last season. An über-safe investment.

TE Jimmy Graham — There are those who question whether a tight end, even one as great as Graham, is worth a first-round pick. I landed him with second-round picks in a couple of leagues this year. And after the way Graham singlehandedly put my teams on his back for large portions of the season, I’d happily take him in the back end of the first round next year.

WR A.J. Green — There’s no such thing as a foolproof pick in a fantasy draft, but this is about as close as it gets.

WR Dez Bryant — Dez hasn’t been quite as freakish as he was over the second half of the 2012 season, but that might have been too high a bar for any mere mortal to clear. He’s a potential cornerstone for a fantasy team.

2nd Round

RB Zac Stacy — The rookie from Vanderbilt has been so impressive this year while playing in an offense woefully short on manpower. With Sam Bradford returning from injury and the Rams destined to make other offensive upgrades through the draft, Stacy could be even better next season.

RB Le’Veon Bell — The rookie from Michigan State has been a beast of burden this year, shouldering an enormous load as both a runner and pass catcher. As of Week 15, he had accounted for all of the Steelers’ rushing TDs this season. Bell is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, but that number will climb when the Steelers get injured center Maurkice Pouncey back and do some other fine-tuning on their offensive line.

RB Reggie Bush — He’s fit in nicely with the Lions, and the fact that he shares the workload with Joique Bell is probably more of a positive than a negative, saving wear and tear on a player who’s had some injury issues in the past.

RB DeMarco Murray — A season of (mostly) good health in 2013 will help cast him in a positive light entering next year’s drafts. If he’s not an elite RB, he’s certainly close, although the injury history is still a bit troubling.

QB Drew Brees — He’ll start slowing down at some point, but Brees hasn’t shown any signs of slippage yet.

WR Demaryius Thomas — His fraction of the pie got a little smaller with the addition of Wes Welker and the maturation of Julius Thomas, but the overall pie grew larger. Ultimately, Demaryius wound up with a big, honkin’ slab of pie topped with a dollop of Cool Whip. Expect him to take another big helping of dessert next year.

WR Julio Jones — The foot injury that ended Jones’ season prematurely probably won’t keep him from slipping beyond the second round of most 12-team fantasy drafts. I don’t think anyone is going to perceive added risk with Julio.

RB Alfred Morris — He’s proven that his rookie performance was no fluke, continuing to churn out strong rushing numbers for a team that fell apart in most other areas. The only drawback is that his non-usage in the Washington passing game limits the potential upside.

RB Giovani Bernard — No sense wasting your time whining about the Bengals giving so many carries to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Whether it’s BJGE or someone else, the Bengals will probably continue to complement the shifty Bernard with a no-frills plowhorse. But that’s fine, because Gio is capable of meeting his weekly fantasy quota with just a couple of touches. Just be careful about basing your valuation on the belief that Bernard’s workload will substantially increase.

WR Brandon Marshall — The big receiver is getting better with age. He’s racked up 21 TD catches in his first 30 games with the Bears, and the emergence of Alshon Jeffery hasn’t cost Marshall anything in terms of yardage numbers.

QB Aaron Rodgers — Well, we now know he’s not invincible. It would be absurd to label Rodgers as an injury risk, and yet he’ll probably slip a half-dozen spots in most fantasy drafts simply because he the injury cost him chances to remind people of his greatness.

WR Antonio Brown — With Mike Wallace out of the picture, Brown has fully blossomed as a high-volume playmaker. He’s now a bona fide WR1.

3rd Round

RB Doug Martin — He was off to a disappointing start even before the season-ending shoulder injury, but Martin’s tour-de-force rookie season can’t be easily dismissed. And this was a shoulder injury, not a leg injury, so Martin should be coming back as good as new.

RB Knowshon Moreno — Moreno hits free agency in the offseason, and if he stays in Denver, he’s apt to go earlier than this. A move to another team, however, would seriously dent his value. The late-blooming Moreno isn’t exactly chopped liver, but would you consider him a top-25 overall pick if he wound up in, for instance, Jacksonville?

RB Arian Foster — Even this might be too high for Foster with the degree of risk involved, but the respected brand name will prevent him from slipping too far.

QB Cam Newton — He’s improved as an NFL quarterback in 2013, though not necessarily as a fantasy quarterback. Cam’s rushing numbers have slipped just a bit, and he might never again be the running threat that he was in his first couple of years in the league. But if the Panthers make some sorely needed upgrades at wide receiver, Newton will have a good chance to turn in the best passing numbers of his career.

WR Jordy Nelson — Is there a receiver in the league with a better pair of hands than this guy? Nelson would have reached double digits in TDs by now if Aaron Rodgers hadn’t gotten hurt.

WR Alshon Jeffery — The Bears’ other big receiver has been enjoying a breakout season and looks like he’ll be a star for years to come. The only mild concern is that Jay Cutler loves throwing to his buddy Brandon Marshall. Jeffery might actually be better off if the Bears let Cutler walk in free agency.

RB C.J. Spiller — Yes, Spiller was a colossal disappointment in 2013, but that means a likely discount on a guy with the potential to deliver first-round value. If Spiller is healthier in 2014, he should be terrific. But will he still have to split carries with the seemingly ageless Fred Jackson?

RB Ray Rice — It’s too early to write him off. Rice’s disappointing season is at least partly attributable to Baltimore’s shabby offensive line, and I trust Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome to fix that. Still, it’s worth exercising caution here.

TE Vernon Davis — That Davis has 12 TD catches entering Week 16 might be less impressive than his average of 16.4 yards per catch. To put that into perspective, Jimmy Graham is at 14.1 yards per catch entering Week 15, and that’s the best mark of his career. The only drawback to drafting Davis is that the 49ers occasionally (and inexplicably) seem to forget about him when drawing up their gameplans.

WR Keenan Allen — The Cal product clocked 40-yard-dash times of 4.71 and 4.75 seconds in an April workout for scouts. After sliding to the Chargers in the third round of this year’s draft, he’s clocked in as a strong Rookie of the Year candidate. He’ll continue to be Philip Rivers’ go-to receiver in 2014.

TE Rob Gronkowski — Gronk is going to be a huge wild card in next year’s drafts. The risks are enormous, but so are the potential rewards. A guy who’s averaged close to a TD per game over his career will only slide so far.

RB Chris Johnson — Entering Week 16, C.J. ranked ninth among RBs in standard fantasy scoring, per ESPN. It doesn’t seem like he’s been that effective this season, but that’s typical C.J.: a few huge games and a few pretty good games scattered amidst a bunch of cowpies. There’s a good chance the Titans will unload Johnson and his unwieldy contract in the offseason. Perhaps a change of scenery will coax out more frequent flashes of vintage CJ2K. On the other hand, it’s possible he ends up in a 50-50 time-share somewhere.

4th Round

TE Julius Thomas — Long considered a potential stud, Orange Julius finally broke through in 2013, emerging as a TD machine. He’s become an important chess piece in the Denver passing game.

WR Vincent Jackson — The game-to-game numbers aren’t always consistent, but the season-to-season numbers have been consistently excellent.

WR Andre Johnson —It’s probably too much to hope for more than about 5-6 TDs, but the reception and yardage totals should hold up for a couple more years.

RB Shane Vereen — With a full season of good health, he might have a shot at 1,000 receiving yards. The only drawback is that Vereen is probably never going to handle the bulk of the rushing duties for the Patriots, though he’ll do more as a runner than, say, Darren Sproles.

WR Pierre Garcon — Garcon’s curious transition from big-play threat to possession receiver extraordinaire makes him one of the more curious commodities available in 2014 drafts. This year’s TD count has been disappointing, and his decline in YPC (from 14.4 in 2012 to 11.9 through 14 games this year) is mildly unsettling. But Garcon looks like a lock to finish with 100-plus catches this year after never before catching more than 70 balls in a season. Despite the unusual metamorphosis, there’s little question that Garcon is a stud.

WR DeSean Jackson — Perceived as a risky investment in the past, D-Jax will seem like a safer play after turning in the finest season of his career.

QB Matthew Stafford — It ain’t always pretty, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers Stafford piles up. If he ever fixes his sloppy mechanics, look out.

RB Ryan Mathews — Here’s a guy who seems to enjoy defying conventional wisdom. When expectations for him are high, he flops. When expectations are low, he surprises us. Mathews has really come on over the second half of the season — which, unfortunately, will raise expectations going into next year’s drafts. Tread lightly.

WR Randall Cobb — A leg injury ruined his 2013 season, but he stands to make a run at 100 receptions next season.

WR Larry Fitzgerald — It’s been a while since he’s turned in great yardage numbers and a great TD total in the same season. It’s 50-50 whether it ever happens again.

WR Wes Welker — It stood to reason that there wasn’t going to be much of a drop-off when Welker went from playing with Tom Brady to playing with Peyton Manning. In fact, Welker hit a career high in TD catches this season. He’s exactly what you’re looking for in a WR2.

WR Kendall Wright — A low TD total obscures just how good this guy has become. (Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams all played together at Baylor — not a bad set of college WRs, eh?) One would imagine that Wright will start to get more end zone looks. If it happens, we’re looking at a potential WR1. But meanwhile, it’s hard to overlook the fact that, entering Week 16, Wright had scored only six TDs in 29 career games.

5th Round

QB Tom Brady — After an uncharacteristically slow start, Brady got back into vintage form this season once he started getting some of his injured pass catchers back. If he can get full seasons out of Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen next year, it’s quite possible he’ll go back to being a top-five QB.

WR Eric Decker — Obviously, his fantasy value hinges on where he ends up after testing free agency. If he stays in Denver, he won’t be available in this spot.

QB Nick Foles — It’s exciting to think about what he might be able to do over a full season in Chip Kelly’s offense. Then again, young quarterbacks who get their first taste of NFL success often regress the following year. If Foles goes before the middle of the fourth round in a 12-team league, he’s being overdrafted.

TE Jordan Cameron — This has been a somewhat uneven season for the young TE, but it’s readily apparent that he’ll be among the best at the position for the next several years. It doesn’t hurt that he’s paired with Norv Turner, “The TE Whisperer.”

WR Michael Crabtree — After coming back from an Achilles’ injury a few weeks ago, he’s starting to look like the old Crabtree. If he has some big games in the weeks to come, he’ll be taken earlier than this.

WR Victor Cruz — He just had arthroscopic knee surgery but should be good to go in 2013. The Giants’ offensive struggles took a toll on Cruz’s TD numbers, but his reception and yardage totals were pretty much in line with his career norms. There should be a nice discount to be had here.

QB Andrew Luck — The stars simply weren’t aligned for Luck to achieve full potential this in 2013. The Reggie Wayne injury was a killer, and the Dwayne Allen injury was a big one, too. And, of course, the Colts’ offensive line didn’t carry its weight. There are big seasons coming for Luck — huge seasons — and 2014 seems like a great time to buy in at a reasonable price.

RB Frank Gore — He’s a noble old warhorse, but there are some concerns here. Gore will be 31 next season. His performance began to taper off in mid-November. He doesn’t catch passes anymore. And in 2014, Marcus Lattimore and Kendall Hunter could threaten Gore’s workload.

QB Russell Wilson — It will be interesting to see what Percy Harvin adds to the Seattle offense and to Wilson’s fantasy value. Wilson has been making due with a subpar group of receivers, and the Seahawks seem content to use a fairly conservative offense. Wilson has been productive despite those constraints, but you get the feeling that he could be doing even more.

QB Robert Griffin III — What to make of RG3? Well, let’s start with the assumption that he’ll enter the 2014 season healthier than he was for most of 2013. He’ll be playing in a different offense, since the Shanahans are about to be run out of the nations’ capital. Some of RG3’s flaws have come to light, but the tools remain compelling. He’d make a nice value pick at anything beyond QB10.

WR Percy Harvin — Here’s a major wild card for next year’s fantasy drafts. Harvin’s performance in this season’s playoffs could have a major bearing on his draft position next year.

QB Philip Rivers — Grossly undervalued in 2013 fantasy drafts, Rivers won’t be overlooked in 2014.

6th Round

WR Reggie Wayne — You have to wonder how well he’ll bounce back from a major injury at his age. Andrew Luck often seemed lost without Wayne this season, and it’s easy to envision the young quarterback and the old receiver picking up where they left off, with Wayne catching 80-90 passes next season.

QB Tony Romo — Whatever the narrative about his late-game shortcomings, the fantasy narrative is still largely positive.

RB Ben Tate — He hits free agency in the offseason and will earn himself a nice contract after gutting it out for weeks with broken ribs. Cleveland looks like one potential landing spot. If Tate lands there or with another RB-needy team, he could potentially offer second-round fantasy value.

RB David Wilson — Remember him? This is based on the assumption that he’ll be able to make a complete recovery from his neck injury. The Giants’ RB situation will be a tricky spot for fantasy owners this year, but I prefer a healthy Wilson to a healthy Andre Brown.

RB Trent Richardson — I can hear you chuckling But, c’mon, it’s too early to shovel dirt on T-Rich. His chances of ever becoming an elite RB seem pretty bleak, but we see all sorts of surprises in fantasy football every season, don’t we? Richardson is a versatile back who at times has demonstrated a good nose for the end zone. He may have to share carries with Vick Ballard next season, but the Colts have invested too much in T-Rich to give up on him so soon.

RB Andre Ellington — He’s earned a more permanent role in the Cardinals’ offense. If Rashard Mendenhall leaves via free agency, bump Mendenhall even higher.

RB Montee Ball — He had an uneven rookie year, but he figures to make a greater contribution in 2014, particularly if Knowshon Moreno signs elsewhere.

WR Michael Floyd — The second-year receiver is starting to come on. He’s strung together some impressive yardage games in 2013; the TDs should start coming with greater frequency.

RB Chris Ivory — Health is an obvious concern, and he doesn’t catch many passes, but Ivory is an impressive power runner who’s proven that he can be the centerpiece of the Jets’ ground game.

WR Justin Blackmon — A knucklehead, but an extremely talented knucklehead. There comes a point in the draft where the risk is worth it.

TE Jason Witten — Some of the younger TEs have leapfrogged him, but Witten is still among the few plug-and-play guys at the position.

RB Lamar Miller — He’ll only be 23 when the 2014 season opens, and while his failure to decisively seize the Dolphins’ feature-back role has been disappointing, he’s shown enough to hold our interest.

Also considered: Matt Ryan, Stevan Ridley, Rashad Jennings, Steven Jackson, Andre Brown Torrey Smith, Mike Wallace, Jordan Reed