"I got all this knowledge, I got it up here now, I wanna give it to you."
That quote is from the original "Rocky" movie, when Mickey Goldmill was trying to get a young Rocky Balboa to agree to make him his manager. After some back and forth bantering, Rocky finally agreed to the arrangement. I still don't get how Mickey was 76 when he made his pitch in "Rocky" and still 76 when he died in "Rocky III," but oh well.
Anyways, I'm guessing Mickey would have made one hell of a fantasy football owner. Heck, he might have given Matthew Berry and I a serious run for our money. That's because Mick knew the importance of knowledge.
As a fantasy football manager, a major part of my job is to educate the masses and prepare you for what is arguably the best part of fantasy sports ... the draft. Call it your own personal fantasy "match" with Apollo Creed. So with that said, I'm going to get all Mickey Goldmill on you without the screaming, and dish out 20 things you need to know before your 2014 draft.
Peyton Manning is not a lock for 5,000 passing yards. Manning is coming off the greatest single fantasy season ever at the quarterback position, so he has a tough act to follow in 2014. Owners should also keep in mind that Drew Brees is the lone quarterback in the history of the National Football League to throw for 5,000-plus yards multiple times. He reached that mark in 2008 and has done so every season since 2011. No other signal-caller has gone for 5,000 yards in back-to-back campaigns.
Most quarterbacks don't throw 40 TDs back-to-back. During the course of NFL history, a quarterback has thrown for 40-plus touchdowns 10 times in a single season. Of those 10 quarterbacks, Drew Brees is the lone player to do it in back-to-back seasons. Here's another interesting stat ... the average drop in touchdown passes recorded after a 40-touchdown campaign is 13.8 (or 55.5 fantasy points). That does not include Tom Brady, who missed almost all of the 2008 campaign after his 50 touchdowns.
Jamaal Charles won't finish first at running back. I'm not saying Charles won't finish in the top five among runners in 2014, but there's a good chance he won't be the top fantasy player at his spot this season. Since 2006, future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson is the lone back to finish No. 1 in points in back-to-back seasons. Here's the good news ... in the last five years, the No. 1 fantasy runner based on points has finished no worse than eighth (Adrian Peterson) the following year.
Julio Jones was on pace to be a top-five wideout. One of the most talented young wideouts in the NFL, Jones started the 2013 campaign on fire. In fact, he was on pace to finish with 131 receptions, 1,856 yards and 229.44 fantasy points based on the totals he recorded before injuring his foot. Those would have been the best numbers in those categories among all receivers. Barring a setback in his return, Jones needs to be considered a potential top-five (elite) fantasy wideout this season.
Keenan Allen was an exception to the rookie rule. Are you in love with Sammy Watkins? Do you think Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks are a lock to thrive in 2014? Well, you might want to tap the brakes. There have been a total of 154 wide receivers drafted from 2009-13 ... a mere six finished in the top 20 in fantasy points as rookies. That's just under four percent. Oh, and of the five rookie receivers to post 1,000-plus yards since 2000, just two have done it in the last seven years.
Second-year wideouts are breaking out more often. Since 2000, a total of five rookie wide receivers have posted 1,000-plus yards including Allen. That number swells to 27 among second-year wideouts with 1,000-plus yards. In 2013, a total of five receivers reached that mark including Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, T.Y. Hilton, Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd. That's an interesting trend if you're a fantasy owner looking to unearth a sleeper or two at the position.
Knowshon Moreno is almost a virtual lock to bust. Moreno, the fifth-best runner in fantasy land last season, has about the same odds of reaching that level in 2014 as I have of scoring a date with Kate Upton. He showed up to offseason workouts out of shape, dealt with knee soreness and required an arthroscopic procedure that will keep him out of action for several weeks. Even if he's back in time for camp, Moreno (without Manning) won't make a consistent fantasy impact.
Running backs have thrived with Peyton Manning. Speaking of Manning, he's been a godsend for fantasy running backs during his career. The top runners in a Manning-led offense have averaged 265.9 carries, 49 catches, over 1,500 scrimmage yards and double-digit touchdowns per season. Those totals would be even higher if not for three seasons when there was a true committee during his time in Indianapolis. This is one of the reasons I loveMontee Ball so much heading into 2014.
Doug Martin was on pace to be a major fantasy bust. Before you start the bounce-back talk, consider this ... before being injured, Martin averaged 3.6 yards per carry and was on pace to put up 1,392 scrimmage yards. That would have been 534 fewer yards than he had as a rookie. Oh, and Martin also scored just once in his six games as an NFL sophomore. There's been a lot of talk of new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's use of RBBCs in the past, so don't consider Martin more than a high RB2.
Zac Stacy's total workload as a rookie was massive. Stacy was one of the real waiver-wire gems of last season, but owners need to consider his workload. During his time as the Rams starter, he averaged 22.92 touches per game. That projects to what would have been an NFL-high 367 touches over 16 contests. During his final two collegiate seasons, Stacy averaged fewer than 17 touches. So, will he receive such a huge workload again? I doubt it. Even though Tre Mason hasn't looked great in the preseason, the Rams will likely rotate someone in to spell Stacy from time to time. Target Stacy as an RB2.
Jimmy Graham might be a tight end, but he isn't. Graham did lose his case to be considered a wide receiver for financial purposes, but in fantasy land he's not a tight end regardless of the position he's listed at on the depth chart. Over the last three seasons, he's averaged a ridiculous 190 fantasy points. Graham scored 222.50 points in 2014, which would have ranked him sixth among running backs and third at wideout. Forget his position ... Graham is a first rounder in fantasy drafts.
Cordarrelle Patterson is an elite fantasy wideout. Over the final four weeks of last season, Patterson scored more fantasy points than every receiver in the NFL. That's more than stars like Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who coached Josh Gordon in 2013, is intent on getting his talented youngster in the mix often as the Vikings look to establish him as their go-to guy in the pass attack. Patterson has breakout written all over him.
DeMarco Murray is worth a first-round fantasy pick. No one can predict injuries, but numbers are often times a different story. Murray, who ranked seventh in fantasy points among runners in 2013, is in a great position to succeed once again. Not only is he entering a contract year, but Murray is also in an offense that produced two top-17 fantasy running backs (Reggie Bush, Joique Bell) just one season ago under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. At the age of 26, Murray is entering the prime of his career.
Darren McFadden has never played a full 16 games. While talented, McFadden has been as durable as a house of cards in a tornado. He's never played more than 13 games in a single season, and he's missed a combined 19 contests over the last three campaigns. Why is this important in fantasy football? Well, the Oakland Raiders plan to run the football a ton in 2014, and McFadden's lack of durability could mean a lot of work for Maurice Jones-Drew. He's the Raiders' back to draft.
Cam Newton's fantasy points have steadily fallen. Is this the season to consider Newton a potential bust? His fantasy production has dropped in each of his three NFL campaigns, though to be fair he's still finished no worse than fourth in points among quarterbacks. He's also seen a decline in rushing touchdowns, and coming off of ankle surgery has some people worried about his durability in 2014. Newton is also working with one of the weakest corps of wide receivers in the league.
Nick Foles' numbers as a starter are impressive. Foles has started 17 games (including the playoffs) for the Philadelphia Eagles. In those contests, he's averaged 254 passing yards and two total touchdowns with a mere six interceptions ... that equates to right around 20 fantasy points per game when you add in his rushing numbers. Even if we knock his average down to 19 points, he's still a top-five quarterback based on last season's totals. Foles could turn into a serious steal.
Tim Tebow averaged 55 rushing yards per game. Why do Tebow's numbers matter? Well, I'm using them as a comparison to convey how valuable Johnny Manziel could be as a rookie. In 16 starts (including the playoffs), Tebow averaged 8.9 fantasy points with his rushing stats alone. At Texas A&M, Manziel averaged over 15 points just as a runner. That total will drop some as a pro, but Johnny Football is a better passer than Tebow ever dreamed of being. The upside with this kid is big.
USC wideouts don't translate too often in the NFL. All right Trojan fans, let the hate tweets flow! Since 2000, a USC wide receiver has recorded 1,000-plus yards just five times. The last one to do it was Steve Smith, who posted 1,220 yards for the New York Giants in 2009. He's also the last Trojans receiver to go over 1,000 yards in the last 11 years! So for those of you who might be all gung ho on Robert Woods or Marqise Lee, well, you might want to think again before drafting them too soon.
Dexter McCluster is now listed as a running back. If you're in a PPR league, you should be targeting McCluster at the back at end of your draft. A wide receiver during his time in Kansas City, the versatile athlete out of Ole Miss is now listed as a running back with the Tennessee Titans. Based on his 2013 totals, he would have ranked 40th in fantasy points (PPR) among all runners. If he can etch out a Danny Woodhead sort of role with his new team, McCluster could turn into a nice value.
Stephen Gostkowski is a kicker, and a fantasy stud. Gostkowski is coming off his best fantasy season, scoring nearly 170 points. His total would have ranked him just below Giovani Bernard among all backs, ahead of Anquan Boldin at wide receiver and ahead of every single tight end not named Jimmy Graham. He's also consistent, scoring 145 or more points in three straight seasons. That doesn't mean you should draft him in the earlier rounds, but Gostkowski's not a late-round pick either.