An unforgettable 2013 fantasy season went in the books one month ago. The annual coaching carousel ensued, and incoming rookie analysis will follow. While we can't yet include rookies in these post-season fantasy rankings, we do know the identities of the NFL's seven new head coaches. We have preliminary information on the new faces and their offensive philosophies, and can begin contemplating the 2014 impact.
A few points to consider before reading these rankings: Between now and August, many players will move up or down based on unforeseen factors. Injuries, beat writer reports, arrests, and offseason transactions. Receivers and elite tight ends are creeping up my Value-Based board. I strongly believe one of the keys to fantasy title procurement is ownership of a top-four tight end, because production falls off precipitously behind them. Wide receivers look deep on the surface, but securing week-to-week difference makers is critical, even if it may seem tempting to *wait* on the position. The running back field is top heavy and dicier than ever.
1. Adrian Peterson -- Although LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles both outscored him in 2013, Peterson remains the premier runner of our generation and will be an excellent bounce-back bet in 2014. Despite missing two games and playing several others at less than 100 percent, All Day registered a 279-1,266-4.5-10 rushing line and will continue to be the Vikings' offensive backbone under defensive-minded new coach Mike Zimmer.
2. LeSean McCoy -- The NFL's 2013 rushing leader with 1,607 yards -- 268 more than runner-up Matt Forte -- McCoy proved an ideal fit for rookie coach Chip Kelly's innovative offense, combining picture-perfect vision with explosion through the hole and wicked lateral moves in the open field. Still only 25 years old, a strong case could be made for "Shady" as fantasy's No. 1 overall pick.
3. Jamaal Charles -- Another fantastic schematic match for first-year Chiefs coach Andy Reid's ball-control, tailback-centric offense, Charles set statistical career highs across the board en route to a No. 1 overall fantasy finish. He was NFL's only running back to lead his team in targets, catches, and receiving yards. Charles is the third player easy to argue as next season's top pick.
4. Marshawn Lynch -- Lynch is Nos. 5, 4, and 4 in fantasy running back points across 2011-2013. He defines consistency. Including playoffs, Lynch will enter the 2014 season at age 28 with 987 carries and counting over his last three years, an average of over 329 per season. 2014 Lynch drafters would be smart to closely monitor the position battle behind him between Robert Turbin and 2013 second-round pick Christine Michael. Lynch has absorbed an unruly amount of contact.
5. Matt Forte -- No. 2 in the NFL in 2013 rushing behind only McCoy, Forte also finished third among running backs in receptions (74) and fourth in receiving yards (592). He was an all-purpose workhorse under rookie coach Marc Trestman, clearing 95-plus total yards and/or scoring a touchdown in 13-of-16 games. Forte also improved noticeably as a short-yardage/goal-line runner. The Bears are going to sever ties with overpaid 30-year-old backup Michael Bush.
6. Jimmy Graham -- The epitome of a weekly difference maker, Graham tilts scoring at fantasy's thinnest position as Drew Brees' No. 1 option in a pass-heavy offense. Although Graham's rookie deal is up, GM Mickey Loomis has made it clear he isn't going anywhere. With Rob Gronkowski coming off multiple knee ligament tears, Graham will be a shoo-in 2014 first-round fantasy pick.
7. Eddie Lacy -- Lacy was a chin-checking hammer back in his first season, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year after putting Green Bay's offense on his back for long stretches. And Lacy did it without the presence of Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) for 7-of-16 games. Like Jerome Bettis in his prime, Lacy is a high-volume, high-scoring sustainer with plus passing-game chops. Lacy is already an established every-down back, and his fantasy outlook is only going to get better.
8. Calvin Johnson -- Only Adrian Peterson has an argument against Megatron as the NFL's premier athletic freak among skill-position players. Johnson has finished first, first, and third in wideout scoring the past three seasons, and wideouts tend to age better than most positions. Megatron and Matthew Stafford could both benefit from Detroit’s offensive-minded new coach, Jim Caldwell.
9. Peyton Manning -- Expecting Manning to repeat the greatest statistical quarterback season of all time at age 38 would be too bold, but betting on him to keep playing at an elite, difference-making level with an elite supporting cast in 2014 isn't. It's also worth noting Manning only had All-Pro LT Ryan Clady for two starts this season. He is likely to lose free agent Eric Decker, but Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Wes Welker all return.
10. Demaryius Thomas -- Still only 26, Thomas has overcome early-career injury problems to post back-to-back seasons of 90-plus catches, over 1,400 yards, and double-digit touchdowns. If Calvin Johnson is a 100 out of 100, I'd set Demaryius around 96. Peyton Manning's loss of late-career arm strength has actually helped Thomas, who is the NFL's premier run-after-catch and screen-pass receiver. Including playoffs, Demaryius has 100-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 24 of his last 32 games. Megatron has 22 games of 100-plus yards and/or a score over his last 32.
11. Doug Martin -- Martin struggled to find running room (3.59 YPC) before suffering a season-ending Week 7 labrum tear in his shoulder, but remains the foundation of Tampa Bay's offense with three-down tools and a bowling-ball body capable of absorbing much punishment. New Bucs coach Lovie Smith has a history of ball-control, run-heavy teams, overseeing RB1 fantasy finishes by Thomas Jones and Matt Forte in Chicago. Lovie and new OC Jeff Tedford will pound the rock.
12. Dez Bryant -- Dez has registered 90-plus catches, 1,200-plus yards, and a dozen or more touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, and the arrow continues to point up on a receiver who won't turn 26 until next November. Despite a number of aches and pains along the way, Bryant has played in 46 consecutive games. The return of coach Jason Garrett and pursuit of aggressive ex-Lions OC Scott Linehan ensure Dallas will remain a pass-first team in 2014. That's good news for their top pass catcher.
13. Arian Foster -- Rode directly into the ground by outgoing run-first minds Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison on a league-high 1,115 touches from 2010-2012, Foster's body finally gave out in 2013, missing the entire offseason with calf and back injuries before undergoing year-ending surgery to repair the latter ailment in November. Foster will obviously be a high-risk 2014 fantasy investment, but his versatility projects smoothly into new coach Bill O'Brien's more wide-open scheme, and Foster should have one or two solid years left in the tank. He'll turn 28 before next season.
14. Jordy Nelson -- Considered a product of Aaron Rodgers in some circles before the season, Jordy confirmed himself a top-eight NFL wideout by setting career highs in catches (85) and yards (1,314) despite trudging through a Matt Flynn-Scott Tolzien-Seneca Wallace carousel for 7-of-16 games. The surefire sign of an elite receiver is the ability to win at all three levels, and Jordy does that. With free agents Jermichael Finley and James Jones potentially both out of the picture, and Rodgers back healthy in 2014, the sky will be the limit for Green Bay's go-to guy.
15. Julio Jones -- Emerging as far and away Atlanta's top offensive weapon in 2013, Julio was on pace for an unruly 132 catches and 1,856 yards through five games before re-fracturing a foot he originally broke in 2011. The injury is a concern, but the Falcons expect Jones to be healthy long before training camp. Barring unforeseen setbacks, he'll be a locked-in second-round fantasy pick.
16. A.J. Green -- Green is just as consistent and talented as the likes of Demaryius, Dez, Jordy, and Julio, but his weekly upside falls a hair below those four due to quarterback limitations. New OC Hue Jackson also plans to scale back Cincinnati's passing-game volume, targeting a more balanced plan of attack. Green remains the featured player, but his targets may take a small hit.
17. Josh Gordon -- A souped-up Andre Johnson who'll be just 23 next season, Gordon's talent and 2013 production are undeniable. I'm still erring on the side of caution with his January ranking, as quarterback remains a big concern in Cleveland and losing vertical-minded OC Norv Turner can't help. Gordon has a history of off-field immaturity and is one strike from a one-year suspension. He could still end up with a top-14 projection if we get answers to some lingering questions by the fall.
18. Julius Thomas -- To put Thomas' breakout in perspective, he'd played all of 50 career snaps before unloading 12 touchdowns on the league despite missing two games. Only 25, Thomas is one of four true difference makers at fantasy's weakest position, and the former basketball player will keep getting better. Peyton Manning actively, noticeably eyeballs Thomas in the red zone. Look for big improvements on Thomas' 2014 catch and yardage totals with Eric Decker likely leaving.
19. Brandon Marshall -- Partner-in-crime Alshon Jeffery is coming, but he's not quite there yet. An outstanding fit for Marc Trestman's offense as a run-after-catch beast that Jay Cutler is willing to target relentlessly even when "covered," Marshall enters a contract year in 2014. A top-five fantasy wideout in each of his two years in Chicago, Marshall will be a "safe" second-round pick.
20. DeMarco Murray -- Murray's 5.17 YPC average led all 2013 rushers among backs with at least 200 attempts. Although his injury history and Dallas' pass-first playcalling can be argued against him, the Cowboys are clearly committed to Murray as an every-down back. He's a low-end RB1.
21. Zac Stacy -- Stacy shook off a slow August to take over as St. Louis' starting tailback for 2013's last 12 games. He proceeded to rush 249 times for 960 yards with eight touchdowns over the final dozen weeks, numbers that work out to 332-1,292-11 across a 16-start season. As Sam Bradford is nursed back from his October ACL tear, Stacy is headed for continued bellcow work.
22. Le'Veon Bell -- Bell's 3.52 YPC average isn't an accurate reflection of his rookie-season effectiveness. He caught 45 passes in 13 games, averaged 8.9 yards per reception, and was an all-purpose workhorse who got better as the year progressed. Bell will never be a high yards-per-carry back because he doesn't bust long runs. He will be a solid, consistent annual RB2.
23. Alfred Morris -- Morris' per-play efficiency wasn't far off his rookie campaign (4.62 YPC compared to 4.81 in 2012), but Washington's sieve-ish defense contributed to a down fantasy year for "Alf" as the Redskins constantly played from behind. Washington's overall offensive production should rise in 2014 ... assuming rookie coach Jay Gruden doesn't force Morris in a Bengals-like committee with Roy Helu. Morris' lack of passing-game skill works against him, and losing the Shanahans' tried-and-true zone-blocking scheme puts a bit of a lid on his upside.
24. Rob Gronkowski -- This ranking may be overly optimistic on a player who tore his ACL and MCL in December, but Gronkowski is worth a top-25 pick even if he only plays in eight games. He's that big of a score tilter at the painfully thin tight end position. At some point, however, Gronk's injury luck is going to run out. Kellen Winslow's did at age 27. Gronk turns 25 this May.
25. Drew Brees -- I'm still generally not a proponent of using early-round fantasy picks on quarterbacks, with Peyton Manning as the exception, and Brees and Aaron Rodgers both not terribly far behind. Brees' supporting cast should return near-fully intact, and he's finished as a top-six fantasy passer in nine straight years. I'm willing to draft him at the top of the third round.
26. Aaron Rodgers -- Rodgers' 2013 collarbone fracture doesn't concern me because I don't think he's suddenly injury prone. I do think his going-forward upside is somewhat restricted by Green Bay's increasingly balanced offense featuring Eddie Lacy. And potentially losing free agents James Jones and Jermichael Finley can't help. Rodgers' underrated rushing ability and insane passing talent keep him as my No. 3 quarterback. He's also getting back OT Bryan Bulaga.
27. DeSean Jackson -- D-Jax set career highs in catches (82) and yards (1,332), and tied his previous career high for touchdown receptions (9) in his first season under Chip Kelly, finishing as fantasy's No. 10 wideout scorer. I don't see Jackson as a great bet to repeat or better those numbers in 2014, but do expect Kelly to continue to scheme him the rock and get Jackson into space. I wouldn't want Jackson as my WR1, but would love him as a weekly high-ceiling WR2.
28. Larry Fitzgerald -- Playing the Reggie Wayne/Hines Ward slot role in Bruce Arians' offense led to a bounce-back year of sorts for Fitz, who notched 82 catches and ten touchdowns to finish 16th in receiver scoring. He battled recurring hamstring woes and his yards-per-reception average isn't nearly what it used to be due to the way Fitzgerald is now employed on the field, closer to the line of scrimmage. I expect Fitz to be a solid fantasy WR2 in 2014. I think his upside has taken a hit.
29. Andre Johnson -- A first- or second-ballot Hall of Famer, Johnson continues to overcome average-to-bad quarterback play and Father Time (33 this July) to post WR1 numbers. He ranked third in the NFL in 2013 receptions (109), seventh in receiving yards (1,407), and sixth in 20-plus-yard catches (20). The effect of new Texans coach Bill O'Brien's offense remains to be seen, but I do know he featured a true alpha receiver for both of his seasons at Penn State (Allen Robinson), and has a wide receivers coach background. So I expect at least one more big year from "A.J."
30. Alshon Jeffery -- Jeffery grew up in a hurry as an NFL sophomore, reshaping his body in the offseason and exploding (89-1,421-7) in Marc Trestman's receiver-friendly offense as a high-flying ball snatcher with strong hands and outstanding leaping ability. Whereas Brandon Marshall remains Chicago's short-to-intermediate target hog, Jeffery is the big-play artist. Only 24, Alshon is already approaching WR1 value in re-draft leagues. He’s a top-10 receiver in Dynasty.
31. Antonio Brown -- Brown shook off an injury-plagued 2012 to rank second in the NFL in both catches (110) and receiving yards (1,499), and 13th among wideouts in touchdown receptions (8). A movable receiver to whom returning Steelers OC Todd Haley schemes the ball, Brown will again be a 100-catch candidate in 2014. Pittsburgh may lose Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to free agency. Look for Brown to start opposite raw sophomore Markus Wheaton.
32. Randall Cobb -- Cobb missed all but six regular season games with a fractured right fibula, returning late in the year to play limited snaps in two affairs. Now healthy and a proven dynamic presence when 100%, Cobb will enter 2014 as a shoo-in bounce-back pick in his contract year.
33. Ryan Mathews -- Mathews will enter the final year of his contract after setting career bests in games played (16), carries (285), and rushing yards (1,255) with a career-low one lost fumble. He emerged as San Diego's offensive centerpiece down the stretch. Mathews' December high ankle sprain is a reminder of his suspect durability, but he should be a strong RB2 pick in 2014 drafts.
34. Pierre Garcon -- Transitioning out of the target-magnet "X" receiver spot in Mike Shanahan's offense is somewhat concerning for Garcon's outlook, but Jay Gruden is bringing a pass-first attack to D.C., and the Redskins still aren't exactly brimming with pass catchers. As Robert Griffin III should improve further removed from his knee injury, Garcon stays in the high-end WR2 mix.
35. Keenan Allen -- An elite WR2 with WR1 upside, Allen quickly emerged as one of the NFL's premier route runners as a rookie, earning the obvious trust of Philip Rivers in the process. Including playoffs, Allen parlayed 16 starts into a 76-1,175-10 line in one of the best rookie receiver campaigns in league history. It's scary to think Allen will only keep getting better.