Bell, Bernard among 2014 fantasy man crushes

No matter who you are, no matter how old you are, you have almost certainly had a crush or two in your lifetime.

Who wasn't head over heels in love with Farrah Fawcett back in the 1970s-1980s? When I saw her in "The Cannonball Run", I knew there was something I liked (I was eight so I didn't know what it was that I liked, I just knew I liked it). Oh, and how about Alyssa Milano in "Who's the Boss?" Come on, admit it. You watched "Poison Ivy II" and even "Embrace of the Vampire" just to see, um, "more" of Milano.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I will admit that I do develop, well, an affinity for certain NFL players each year that I think could be draft bargains or turn into superstars. No, it's not like the man crush George Costanza had on Tony in that episode of "Seinfeld." Call it fantasy man love, call it a little fantasy infatuation. Call it what you want.

If you think a player can help you win a fantasy championship, there's no shame in expressing your feelings, right?

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Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan was a massive statistical disappointment last season, but you can't blame him. He lost his best offensive weapon in Julio Jones, and Roddy White dealt with nagging injuries for much of the 2013 campaign. With his two star wideouts back at his disposal, though, Ryan will be in a good position to rebound both on the field and in fantasy football. He's a terrific target for owners who plan to wait on a quarterback until the middle to late rounds.

Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos: Ball's value for next season has everything to do with the status of Knowshon Moreno. If he remains with the Broncos, well, my fantasy man crush on Ball will diminish. If Moreno leaves (as I expect), however, this kid out of Wisconsin is going to turn into a valuable asset in all fantasy leagues. While I don't see him ranking among the top five runners like Moreno did last season, Ball could be a No. 2 playing in an offense with Peyton Manning.

Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: I'm reminded of Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" when I think of this versatile running back out of Michigan State. It's not just because of his last name, either. Fantasy owners who pass on Bell in drafts will have "gone insane from this pain that they surely know." This kid is the real deal, a perfect fit for the offense of coordinator Todd Haley and a first-round talent in all leagues. I see him finishing as a top-10 running back.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Bernard is one of the most explosive young running backs in the league, and I expect him to see a greater role in the Bengals offense under new coordinator Hue Jackson. The veteran coach likes to lean on his runners -- just look at the success of Stephen Davis, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush while in his system -- and Bernard has all the looks of a major playmaker. I'll be targeting him as a No. 2 fantasy running back across the board.

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Whether or not the Cardinals retain Rashard Mendenhall remains to be seen, but the team can't ignore the sort of playmaking skills Ellington displayed as a rookie. Despite playing in somewhat of a limited role, he averaged more than 5.5 yards per carry and caught 39 passes. While he doesn't have great size at 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds, Ellington can play big in the stat sheets. If he earns more of a featured role in the offense, the sky is the limit.

Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers: Cobb was on this list last season, but injuries halted his rise to fantasy stardom. He'll be back at 100 percent for 2014, though, and the potential loss of James Jones as a free agent should mean more targets in the pass attack. It also doesn't hurt that Cobb has a star in Aaron Rodgers throwing him the football. A versatile athlete, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see Cobb finish with more fantasy points than teammate Jordy Nelson next season.

Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers: Crabtree missed most of last season coming back from Achilles surgery, but he showed some flashes of his past greatness upon his return to the gridiron. Coming into 2014, he'll get in a full training camp and preseason while increasing his already great rapport with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. If things fall into place, Crabtree could become a top-10 fantasy wide receiver while also turning into one of the best bargains in drafts.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Over the final four weeks of the 2013 regular season, no wide receiver scored more fantasy points than Patterson. The up-and-coming star will benefit greatly from the presence of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has coached a ton of star wideouts during his career, including Josh Gordon last season. The Vikings, who should also upgrade at quarterback, will no doubt get Patterson the football a lot more in his second year.

Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans: Wright might have found the end zone just twice last season, but he also caught 94 passes and finished among the top-20 wideouts in PPR leagues. He'll be even better under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who has coached great receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Hines Ward. He also helped rookie Keenan Allen break out in 2013 while in San Diego. Wright has more value in PPR formats, but he's going to push into the top 20 in standard leagues too.

Dennis Pitta, TE, Free agent: Pitta is a pending free agent, but I'd be shocked if the Baltimore Ravens let him leave this offseason. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak likes to use the tight end position prominently in his offenses -- think Shannon Sharpe and Owen Daniels -- so Pitta will be a potential targets machine in a pass attack that lacks for playmakers outside of Torrey Smith. Don't be shocked to see Pitta finish among the five-best fantasy tight ends in 2014.


Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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