For the final Higher/Lower of the season, we're going to look ahead to 2014. I've split most of my time doing this for fantasy and the second half of The Walking Dead. How will the first round of your draft unfold? Here's an idea of how it may look with players who have moved up into the first round and those who have moved out of it. We're going with a ten-team, standard fantasy leagues for this. And after I'm done writing this my next big decision is I have to figure out if I want to trade Judith in my Walking Dead fantasy league before February sweeps.
1: Quarterbacks who should be taken in the first round of your fantasy draft. Lower. There's simply too much depth at the position to warrant taking one this early. In a ten-team league, there's going to be at least one "elite" fantasy quarterback for everyone. How do you like these names: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. Don't forget Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan. That's 13 guys who can fill your No. 1 QB slot in 2014. I would want one of the first nine names on the list, but still, all you have to do is keep track as to how they're going off the board and make your selection when the quarterback run begins.
Think you can't get a stud QB late? Stafford and Romo's average draft position (ADP) in NFL.com leagues this season was the ninth round. Rivers' was the 15th. Foles was undrafted, albeit he replaced Michael Vick, whose ADP was the 11th round. That's four top-flight QBs who were there for you in the back half of your draft. Next year? Ryan and Brady will fall into that category of ninth round or later since they're coming off of "down" seasons, and so might Kaepernick. The depth will be there for you. Load up elsewhere first.
1st: Round I'll take Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy and Le'Veon Bell in my fantasy draft: Push. Knowshon Moreno would be on this list too, except he's going to be a free agent so we have to wait to see where he lands. Forte will go the highest of this group, as he'll be off the board by the fifth overall selection. Some order of Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Forte will be the first four picks in your draft. Lacy will go somewhere between sixth and eighth overall, while Bell will be selected at the end of the first round.
2nd or later: Rounds I'll take former first-rounders Ray Rice, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson in my fantasy draft in 2014. Lower. Of this group, the guy I believe can bounce back the most next season is Doug Martin. Literally every other Buccaneers running back (Mike James, Bobby Rainey, James Wilder, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott) was able to have tremendous success in 2013 except for Martin, which is really surprising. However it did take awhile for the Buccaneers line to get healthy and jell, so I'll give Martin the benefit of the doubt he would have turned it around. I'd love getting Martin late in the second round if he's still available. I'm more nervous about Rice, who has seen a lot of carries over the course of his career coupled with a downturn in production. Yes, he was banged-up this season but it's the third straight year in which his stats have decreased. He's almost un-draftable for me because he's still going to merit a second round pick and there are plenty of players I'll take instead of him when my turn comes in that round.
Spiller is the new Ryan Mathews. After years of frustration, we finally turned the page on Mathews just in time for him to save his NFL -- and fantasy -- career. Spiller is at that tipping point for Buffalo. Which way will he go? He's never become the bell-cow back like we'd hoped he would be, and he's not suddenly going to morph into a 300-carry-a-year running back. He's never had that role at any point since high school, so it's not going to start now. He could easily drop to the fourth or fifth round, and maybe even lower. Before you say "hold on a second," remember, Spiller owners weren't playing him the last ten weeks of the season. Suddenly he's a guy you're going to grab around the time you're most likely to get your top couple of wide receivers? Spiller's more a curiosity at this point than someone I can count on. There's no way I take him any higher than my third RB.
Richardson is a complete wildcard. Will he really become the No. 1 RB in Indianapolis after the coming off-season? The Browns wouldn't have given up on him if he was still a franchise player. If I'm looking for my fourth or fifth running back and Richardson is still there? I'll take him, but not before then. His drop out of the first round will be the furthest of all these players. And I'm talking a Sandra-Bullock-falling-from-space-to-the-earth-in-Gravity-type fall.
2: Wide receivers who should be selected in the first round of your draft. Lower. Sure, it's possible Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon will go in the first round depending on how your draft unfolds, but they're more opening round possibilities if you play in a 12-team league. If I'm in a larger league like that and I pick on the button -- the swing picks at the end of the first round -- I'd have no problem going Megatron and Gordon back-to-back if the running backs I wanted are gone. Make no mistake, Gordon will be the second WR off the board behind Johnson. Then comes the group of Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Antonio Brown. There are more players at that level just below Calvin than there have been in recent years. I'm very happy with the WR depth for next season and feel confident I can come back in the third and fourth rounds and get two stars if I decide to go RBs with my first two picks.
Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. You can see him as the host of NFL Fantasy Live that airs Sunday through Friday on NFL Network at 5pmET/2pmPT and also at 1amET/10pmPT. Listen to him on the NFL Fantasy Live podcast available at nfl.com and on itunes. Reach out to him on Google plus or Twitter @howaboutafresca, and listen to his Fantasy Podcast with Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison every week on nfl.com. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.