Fitz on Fantasy: An Early 2014 Mock Draft

The Super Bowl has come and gone, and fantasy owners who didn’t win championships in 2013 have had more than a month to lick their wounds and exchange bad-beat stories. Free agency and the NFL Draft will hold our attention in the months to come, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next season’s fantasy drafts.

Here’s an early-February guess at what 2014 fantasy football drafts might look like. What follows is a six-round mock. In an attempt to stay true to the spirit of a mock draft, many of these picks are based on what a team in a particular draft slot had done in earlier rounds. And please note that 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.

OK, let’s get started …

1st Round

1) RB Jamaal Charles — He’s such a perfect fit in Andy Reid’s offense. Is there any doubt Charles will continue to thrive if healthy?

2) RB Adrian Peterson — After turning in a season for the ages in 2012, Peterson followed it up with mere excellence. Considering that Purple Jesus came back from a devastating knee injury and ran for 2,000-plus yards two seasons ago, it seems silly to be concerned about the mid-foot ailment that hobbled him late in 2013, but it’s one possible justification for bypassing Peterson in favor of a different RB from the “Big Four.”

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

4) RB Matt Forte — It appears that there are four elite running backs, and Forte is the final member of the Four Horsemen. Marc Trestman’s offense really suits Forte. RBs 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.

5) WR Calvin Johnson — No signs of slippage here. After a career-high 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, Megatron “only” produced 1,492 yards this past season, but his TD total went from five to 12. An über-safe investment.

6) 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 have been even better if he hadn’t missed all of one game and most of another due to a concussion. A mid-first-round value? Absolutely.

7) 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 it’s tough to argue with the numbers.

8) 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 (Super Bowl performance notwithstanding). 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.

9) WR Josh Gordon — You could make a pretty decent case that he deserves to be chosen ahead of Megatron. Gordon has turned into a monster, and perhaps it would make more sense to bet on the monster who’s still ascending rather than one whose career has already crested. It’s amazing what Gordon did last season while playing with a series of backup-caliber QBs, and despite 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 last season, it’s a risk I’d be willing to take.

 10) TE Jimmy Graham — There are those who question whether a tight end, even one as great as Graham, is worth a first-round pick. But he’s capable of carrying a fantasy team on his back for long stretches of the season.

11) RB Le’Veon Bell — A true beast of burden, Bell shouldered an enormous load as both a runner and pass catcher during his rookie year with the Steelers. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, but that number should climb when the Steelers get injured center Maurkice Pouncey back and do some other fine-tuning on their offensive line.

12) 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.

Will Josh Gordon put up bigger fantasy numbers than Megatron?

2nd Round

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

14) WR Dez Bryant — Dez wasn’t quite as freakish in 2013 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.

15) 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, especially if Eric Decker leaves via free agency.

16) RB Reggie Bush — He 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.

17) RB Alfred Morris — He proved that his rookie performance was no fluke, churning 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.

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

19) WR Julio Jones — The foot injury that ended Jones’ season prematurely probably won’t keep him from slipping past the 20th pick in most fantasy drafts. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to perceive added risk with Julio.

20) RB Zac Stacy — The rookie from Vanderbilt was wildly impressive while playing in an offense woefully short on manpower. He stands to benefit from coming upgrades to his supporting cast.

21) 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.

22) QB Aaron Rodgers — Well, we learned that he isn’t 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 the broken collarbone cost him chances to remind people of his greatness.

23) 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.

24) 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.

3rd Round

25) 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, could seriously dent his value. Would you still consider him a top-25 overall pick if he wound up in, say, Jacksonville? Didn’t think so.

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

27) 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.

28) WR Jordy Nelson — Is there a receiver in the league with better hands? Nelson would have reached double digits in TDs if Aaron Rodgers hadn’t gotten hurt.

29) WR Alshon Jeffery — The Bears’ other big receiver enjoyed 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 have been better off if the Bears had let Cutler walk in free agency.

30) 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?

31) RB Ray Rice — It’s too early to write him off. Rice’s disappointing season was at least partly attributable to Baltimore’s shabby offensive line, and I trust Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome to fix that. Still, it would be risky to take him any earlier than this. (For that matter, it’s risky to take him here.)

32) TE Vernon Davis — That Davis had 13 TD catches might be less impressive than his average of 16.3 yards per catch. To put that into perspective, Jimmy Graham averaged 14.1 yards per catch in 2013, and that was 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.

33) 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.

34) RB Chris Johnson —C.J. tied for eighth among RBs in standard fantasy scoring, per ESPN. It doesn’t seem like he was that effective, 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.

35) 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.

36) 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 really come on over the second half of this past season — which, unfortunately, will raise expectations going into next year’s drafts. Tread lightly.

Will Johnson find that ever-elusive consistency with his new team?

4th Round

37) 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. His 2013 TD count (5) was disappointing, and his decline in YPC (from 14.4 a year earlier to 11.9) was mildly unsettling. But Garcon finished with 113 receptions after never before catching more than 70 balls in a season. Despite the unusual metamorphosis, there’s little question that Garcon is a stud.

38) 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.

39) WR Keenan Allen — The Cal product clocked 40-yard-dash times of 4.71 and 4.75 seconds in his pre-draft workout for scouts. After sliding to the Chargers in the third round, he just missed out on Rookie of the Year honors. He’ll continue to be Philip Rivers’ go-to receiver in 2014.

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

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

42) 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 a coin flip whether it ever happens again.

43) 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.

44) RB Ben Tate — He hits free agency in the offseason and will earn himself a nice contract after a season in which he gutted 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.

45) 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.

46) 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.

47) 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.

48) WR Michael Crabtree — After coming back from an Achilles’ injury late in the year, he started to look like the old Crabtree. A fine receiver, no matter what Richard Sherman thinks.

5th Round

49) QB Tom Brady — After an uncharacteristically slow start, Brady got back into vintage form 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.

50) 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. He’s a near-ideal WR2.

51) WR Victor Cruz — He had arthroscopic knee surgery late in the year but should be good to go in 2014. 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.

52) QB Matt Ryan — His production was admirable given the health woes of WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White. With his top targets fully healthy, Ryan should go back to being an upper-tier quarterback.

53) 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.

54) 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 this late.

55) WR Percy Harvin — Here’s a major wild card for next year’s fantasy drafts. Harvin’s performance in the Super Bowl reminded us just how dangerous he can be when healthy.

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

57) RB Andre Ellington — This little dynamo has earned a more permanent role in the Cardinals’ offense. If Rashard Mendenhall leaves via free agency, bump Mendenhall even higher.

58) 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 next season, but the Colts have invested too much in T-Rich to give up on him so soon.

59) 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.

60) 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. The Colts’ offensive line simply 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.

Fantasy owners hope this is the type of animation we see from Brady. Not the yelling at linemen and unknown rookie receiver kind.

6th Round

61) TE Jordan Cameron — The young TE is coming off an uneven season, but it’s readily apparent that he’ll be among the best at the position for the next several years.

62) 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 last 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.

63) QB Russell Wilson — It will be interesting to see what Percy Harvin adds to the Seattle offense, and to Wilson’s fantasy value, next season. 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.

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

65) WR Roddy White — Injuries left him a shell of himself for much of the 2013 campaign, but he was back in form by season’s end. Health has never before been an issue for him, and the late-year surge suggests that it’s safe to take the plunge again.

66) WR T.Y. Hilton — Streaky as hell, but he sure is something when he’s on, isn’t he? Stardom seems only a matter of time.

67) 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.

68) QB Philip Rivers — Preposterously undervalued in most 2013 fantasy drafts, Rivers won’t be overlooked in 2014.

69) WR Michael Floyd — This physically imposing young wideout is starting to come on. He strung together some impressive yardage games in 2013; the TDs should start coming with greater frequency.

70) 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.

71) WR Kendall Wright — Wright had just two TD catches last season, which 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 he’s scored only six TDs in 31 career games.

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