Fitz on Fantasy: The Seven Most Polarizing Players Headed into the 2014 Season
Daniel Day Lewis is unquestionably one of the finest actors of our generation, but is he the finest? In a fantasy draft of actors, a lot of film aficionados would take DDL No. 1 overall, but some might use the top pick on Edward Norton or Gary Oldman or even Kevin Spacey. Tastes vary, but Day Lewis wouldn’t slide very far in a fantasy actors draft, and someone would feel lucky if he fell to No. 5 or so.
It would be much harder to rank a polarizing actor like, say, Nicolas Cage. I happen to be sort of a closet Nic Cage fan. Yes, he’s made a lot of shitty movies, but I thought he was brilliant in “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Raising Arizona,” and I’m not sure a quirky film like “Vampire’s Kiss” would have worked with anyone else in the lead. Even with all the shitty movies Cage has done, he’s often able to elevate them into entertainingly shitty fare. Still, I grudgingly acknowledge that a great many people think Nic Cage sucks.
Jamaal Charles is the Daniel Day Lewis of fantasy football. Charles is No. 1 in a lot of people’s rankings this year. I personally prefer LeSean McCoy because I’m concerned that Kansas City’s offensive line has deteriorated, and I have no such concerns about Philadelphia’s offensive line. But there’s not much point to arguing about whether Charles should be No. 1 or No. 2, because that argument will only matter for one owner in a typical redraft league.
I’m more concerned with the polarizing players who generate a much wider range of opinions I’m less concerned with the Daniel Day Lewises of fantasy football than with the Nicolas Cages, Colin Farrells and Hugh Grants of fantasy football.
In their invaluable aggregation of fantasy rankings, the good people at FantasyPros.com include a standard deviation number for each player that measures average variation across all expert rankings. Let’s take a closer look at some of the players with high standard deviation numbers.
Kaepernick is ranked QB11, with 32 out of 90 experts ranking him as a top-10 quarterback and 25 experts ranking him outside the top 12. He has the second-highest FantasyPros standard deviation number among the top 19 QBs, just behind Nick Foles.
Optimist’s view: The physically gifted Kaepernick has more tools than your local Home Depot, and at 26, he still has room for growth as a passer. In addition to respectable passing stats, he’s rushed for 939 yards and 9 TDs over the last two seasons.
Pessimist’s view: Kaepernick averaged a hair under 200 passing yards per game last season and only 1.3 TD passes per start. He bookended the regular season with 412-yard and 310-yard passing games, but in 10 of the 14 games in between he threw for fewer than 200 yards. The run-oriented 49ers ran the ball on 54.8% of their snaps last season and attempted the fewest passes of any team in the league.
Quick take: It’s nice to have a QB who can accumulate points with his legs, but as former Michael Vick and Kordell Stewart owners can attest, it’s dangerous to place a substantial bet on a QB’s rushing ability. Kap is no mere runner — his arm is terrific — but San Francisco’s modus operandi keeps his passing potential tethered. (Kap attempted 30 or more passes in only three regular-season games last year.) As a high-profile young star, Kaepernick won’t slip down to bargain level in many drafts this year. With ample depth at the QB position, it might be wise to let someone else pay the freight.
One suspects that Johnny F. Football is destined to elicit a wide range of opinions from the fantasy intelligentsia for the entirety of his career, and he’s certainly a polarizing figure as he stands in the threshold of his rookie season. Manziel has the highest standard deviation of any draftable quarterback, and by a fairly wide margin. His consensus FantasyPros ranking is QB20, with a range of opinions that runs from low-end starter to fourth-stringer in 12-team leagues. Nineteen experts rank Manziel in the top 18. Twenty experts rank him 28th or lower.
Optimist’s view: Manziel is going to make hay as a runner. He ran for 2,169 yards and 30 TDs in two seasons at Texas A&M. (And of course, sacks are counted against a QB’s rushing yardage in the college game, making those rushing stats seem even gaudier.) The 21-year-old Manziel produced terrific numbers against stiff SEC competition at a tender age, and players who excel in college at a young age tend to have a pretty good NFL hit rate.
Pessimist’s view: The big concern is that Manziel’s sandlot style won’t translate to the NFL — and just might get him hospitalized. He’s small (6-0, 207 pounds). If Josh Gordon is suspended for the entire season, Cleveland’s wide receivers will be terrible. And of course, Manziel’s hard-partying, ass-chasing TMZ lifestyle is a turn-off to many. (I’m not turned off; just jealous.)
Quick take: Count me among the pro-Manziel crowd. If JFF can scratch out 3,000 passing yards — admittedly a tall order if Gordon misses the season — Manziel’s rushing yardage could conceivably vault him into the top 10 at the QB position. I love the idea of drafting him as your backup QB and getting a whole lot of upside without a great deal of risk.
Currently ranked RB16, Spiller has the highest standard deviation among the top 17 backs on the consensus expert board. He’s a top-15 RB for 24 experts, and 14 experts deem him unworthy of a spot in the top 20.
Optimist’s view: Spiller played on a bad ankle for most of last year and still averaged 4.6 yards per carry. He’s two years removed from a season in which he averaged an insane 6.0 yards per carry and rolled up more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage. Fred Jackson, 33, isn’t getting any younger — in fact, he asks that you kids get the hell off his lawn.
Pessimist’s view: The Bills’ backfield is destined to be a committee affair yet again, with new member Bryce Brown bringing cheap beer and Tostitos to the party. Although Spiller is a good pass catcher, he isn’t even assured of playing on third downs because Jackson is such an effective pass blocker. Spiller has averaged just over five TDs a season over the past three years, and Jackson figures to handle most of the goal-line work.
Quick take: I’m cautiously bullish. The time-share arrangement will probably prevent him from producing like a true RB1, but Spiller can still do a lot with 15-16 touches a game. (He averaged 15.7 touches last year.) I like him as a high-end RB2.
The experts have Jennings ranked RB20. At least a dozen of them see Jennings as a high-end RB2, while roughly a third of the experts put him in RB3 territory, ranking him 25th or lower among running backs. He has the highest standard deviation of any RB in the top 20.
Optimist’s view: Jennings is currently slotted as the Giants’ starter. The esteemed John Paulsen of 4for4.com, purveyor of shrewd fantasy football analysis, notes that in 13 career games where Jennings has had 15 or more touches, he’s averaged 14.4 fantasy points — solid RB1 numbers. Jennings has averaged a healthy 4.3 yards per carry during his career despite playing for some godawful teams.
Pessimist’s view: With 8 TDs on 264 carries over the last two seasons, Jennings hasn’t been a prolific TD scorer, and he’s been unexceptional as a pass catcher. Rookie Andre Williams of Boston College could push for carries — and it’s worth noting that Giants head coach Tom Coughlin used to coach at B.C. David Wilson might also be a factor if he can come back from a neck injury. The Giants’ offensive line is in a state of flux.
Quick take: I’m not ashamed to admit I find it hard to get a read on Jennings’ 2014 fantasy prospects, so I’m apt to stay away. Is he the most talented RB on his own team? Maybe. I’m not sure. I’m more inclined to speculate on Williams, a highly productive college runner with the potential to relegate Jennings to third-down duty.
With the highest standard deviation of any receiver in the top 20, Welker averages out to WR 18 for the experts, three spots lower than his public ADP. Ten experts leave him out of the top 25, while 15 experts put him in the top 15.
Optimist’s view: Welker has had more than 100 catches in five of the last seven seasons. He caught 73 passes in only 13 games last season and had a career-high 10 TDs in his first season with Peyton Manning. The Denver passing attack remains fearsome.
Pessimist’s view: Welker is 33 and missed three regular-season games last year due to a concussion. He piled up eight TDs in his first six games, then scored only twice in his next seven games. WR Demaryius Thomas and TE Julius Thomas will hog targets, and while Eric Decker has left Denver, the Broncos added veteran Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer.
Quick take: Like Chrissie Hynde, I’m middle of the road, ranking Welker at WR18. It’s easy to understand the pessimism given his age and the concussion worries, but the Broncos’ sublime passing game mitigates those concerns.
At WR34, Wayne has fallen from the loftier perches upon which he typically used to roost at this time of year. That’s understandable, given that he’s 35 and tore his ACL last year. Eleven experts nevertheless rate Wayne as a top-25 receiver, while 10 experts leave him out of the top 40. Wayne has the third-highest standard deviation among the top 35 wide receivers, behind only the two WRs just ahead of him on the rankings: Golden Tate and Emmanuel Sanders.
Optimist’s view: Andrew Luck has leaned heavily on Wayne, targeting him 252 times in 23 games over the past two years. Wayne has pumped out big reception and yardage totals for the last decade.
Pessimist’s view: Did we mention that he’s 35 and tore his ACL last year? And now there’s legitimate competition for targets, with T.Y. Hilton coming on, with enigmatic but gifted Hakeem Nicks joining the Colts via free agency, and with Dwayne Allen returning from injury to form an intriguing TE duo along with Luck’s former Stanford teammate, Coby Fleener. Two other talented young receivers, Donte Moncrief and Da’Rick Rogers, wait in the wings.
Quick take: I’m inclined to fade all of Indy’s wide receivers simply because there are so many mouths to feed. Luck is a white-collar QB, but a white-collar income can still be stretched pretty thin while supporting a crowded household. Physical breakdown is a milder concern, and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of drafting Wayne as a fourth wideout if other owners are frightened by the specter of rapid physical decline.
Antonio Gates’ understudy comes in at TE14 in the expert rankings and has the highest standard deviation of any tight end in the top 20. Five experts put him in the top 10 (with two experts ranking him as high as TE7). Thirteen experts leave him out of the top 20.
Optimist’s view: With his freaky size-speed combination and his impressive fantasy-points-per-target output, Green is a darling of the advanced-stats crowd. With a limited diet of targets last year, he averaged an eye-popping 22.6 yards per catch and scored three TDs. Gates is 34, and the Chargers don’t have a lot of quality at wide receiver beyond Keenan Allen.
Pessimist’s view: Gates had 77 catches for 872 yards last season, so it might be premature to start opening the embalming fluid. Green’s NFL track record is limited, and there’s not a great deal to be gleaned from his good but not transcendent college stats at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Quick take: This is probably the right time to buy in. Green’s public-league ADP is TE17, and he has an excellent chance of living up to that even if Gates is healthy and productive all year. If Gates misses time, Green could explode.