Evan Silva

Goal Line Stand

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Silva's July Rankings, 1-100

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Round Three

25. Aaron Rodgers -- In the five seasons Rodgers has played at least 15 games, he's finished second, first, second, second, and second in quarterback scoring. He missed seven 2013 games with a fractured collarbone, but can't be considered injury prone after missing just two combined the previous half-decade. Annually supplemented by rushing stats, I see Rodgers as this year's biggest threat to Peyton Manning atop all fantasy QBs. A balanced, Eddie Lacy-driven attack theoretically curbs Rodgers' box-score upside, but the offense projects as a juggernaut. At age 30 behind an improved offensive line, I think Rodgers may be poised for his best-ever NFL season.

26. Zac Stacy -- OC Brian Schottenheimer is on record as opening St. Louis' running back job to competition, although Stacy should be viewed as the heavy favorite. Taking over as the Rams' workhorse over last season's final 12 games, Stacy rushed 249 times for 960 yards with eight touchdowns, numbers that work out to 332-1,292-11 across a 16-start season. He's much more adept in the passing game than rookie Tre Mason, who struggled mightily as a pass blocker at Auburn and finished his college career with just 19 receptions. I'm also not entirely sold Mason will beat out Benny Cunningham for No. 2 back work after Cunningham quietly led the NFL in yards per carry (5.55) among rushers with at least 45 totes. Additionally, St. Louis sounds committed to a truly run-devoted offense this season, after finishing 2013 a middling 17th in rushing attempts.

27. Drew Brees -- As a wait-on-quarterback proponent, I generally don't believe in using high picks on fantasy's most replaceable position. I do believe a fair case can be made for doing so, however, as quarterbacks like Brees present minimal risk, whereas virtually every NFL running back is at annual risk of injury. In mock drafts, I find my teams look substantially better on paper when I avoid early-round signal callers, loading up at other positions and drafting value-pick QBs in the middle to late rounds. Even so, there is a point at which I could not pass on Brees, who's finished second, first, first, third, second, and first in quarterback scoring over the past six years, with no signs of slowing down in an aggressive attack coached by a true offensive mastermind.

28. Doug Martin -- New Bucs coach Lovie Smith is an ardent run-game believer. OC Jeff Tedford has promised a ground-based offense in Tampa. Martin is the Bucs' best back, although he was not drafted by the new regime, which did select Charles Sims with a top-70 pick. With Mike James also on the roster coming off a 4.92 YPC season while Martin managed 3.59 behind the same line before getting hurt, there are legitimate committee concerns in the Buccaneers' backfield. The Bucs have talked up Sims as a passing-down back. If I'm using a high fantasy pick on a running back, I generally want him to catch passes. I think there is some bust potential with Martin, who must also contend with a revamped offensive line and major question marks at both guard spots.

29. Andre Johnson -- Johnson is entering his age-33 season, but coming off one where he ranked third in the league in receptions (109), seventh in receiving yards (1,407), and tied for sixth in 20-plus-yard catches, all despite a Matt Schaub-Case Keenum QB carousel. Quarterback remains problematic in Houston, but I don't envision Bill O'Brien forgetting about his best offensive player. And, as seemingly is usual, Johnson has room for growth in the touchdown column (5). It isn't that Johnson is a poor red-zone receiver; it's that Gary Kubiak's offenses never featured him there, instead handing off to Arian Foster or throwing to tight ends. The system is changing, and that could be good for Johnson's scoring stock. I'm not yet worried about a training-camp holdout.

30. C.J. Spiller -- Statistically speaking, 27 is the peak age for NFL running backs. Spiller enters his age-27 campaign in a contract year, healthy, and under a coaching staff that should have a better handle on how to utilize him after last year's disappointment. Despite essentially playing on one leg in 2013, Spiller averaged 4.62 YPC and improved to 5.10 YPC in the season's second half. Working against Spiller is a lack of goal-line involvement and deep backfield that added Bryce Brown. Working in Spiller's fantasy favor is his truly special run talent, restored health, Buffalo's devotion to the NFL's most voluminous run game, and a perception of fragility that lowers his draft-day cost. This season, I'll be feeling pretty good if I secure Spiller as my RB2.

31. Antonio Brown -- Brown is a somewhat unique, exception-to-the-rule fantasy star in that he's undersized (5'10/186), speed-deficient (4.56), and dependent on volume, having scored just 15 touchdowns through 261 career catches. For comparison, Demaryius Thomas has 30 TDs on 240 grabs. I might envision Brown as a candidate to regress if I saw reason to believe he might lose volume, but I don't. The Steelers are breaking in a first-time No. 2 receiver in Markus Wheaton, and new slot man Lance Moore (5'9/182) is even smaller than Brown. Entering his age-26 season, there's every reason to believe Brown can continue to flirt with the NFL lead in receptions.

32. Toby Gerhart -- Although the Jaguars are commonly billed as Seahawks imitators, I think their offensive blueprint is Thomas Dimitroff's Falcons. They'll be a run-based team (Gerhart, Michael Turner) that transitions to building around talented young receivers Allen Robinson (Julio Jones) and Marqise Lee (Roddy White). Jags GM Dave Caldwell hails from Atlanta, where Dimitroff's first order of business was to sign Turner and provide young quarterback Matt Ryan with a sustaining, foundation run game. The Jags hope to sit their young QB (Blake Bortles) for most of 2014, but I still think they want to pound the rock. In his first Falcons season, Turner handled a league-high 376 carries. Think what you want about Gerhart's talent; he's got volume steadfastly on his side.

33. Pierre Garcon -- Washington's addition of DeSean Jackson will cut into his league-high target (182) and catch (113) totals, but 28-year-old Garcon has lots of room for growth in the yards-per-reception (11.9) and touchdown (5) departments. It's conceivable that D-Jax's attention-drawing presence will help Garcon in both of the latter categories, offsetting a volume dip. The Redskins' quarterback play should improve with RG3's health restored and Jay Gruden as coach. Gruden turned Andy Dalton into a viable high-volume passer in Cincinnati. Griffin is a far superior talent.

34. Larry Fitzgerald -- Fitz isn't the sexy pick Michael Floyd is this year, but the future HOFer remains the centerpiece of Arizona's passing attack. Each of Bruce Arians' last two offenses have ripped off 600-plus pass attempts, and more can be expected in '14 as the Cards' defense takes a step back after the losses of LBs Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby, in addition to FS Tyrann Mathieu's ACL/LCL recovery. Fitzgerald saw 135 targets last season, 18th most among wideouts. Playing the same high-volume slot role under Arians in 2012, Reggie Wayne was targeted an AFC-high 195 times. I don't think it's crazy to project Fitzgerald for an uptick in usage. And even if Fitz has lost some long speed, he remains a red-zone dominator, coming off a ten-TD season.

35. Roddy White -- Many drafters are scared off by White's combination of advancing age (32) and recent injuries. He's a virtual lock to be a value pick. Shaking off his knee and ankle ailments late last season, White racked up 43 catches for 502 yards and two scores over Atlanta's final five games, good for a beastly 138-1,607-7 extrapolation. The guy can still ball. A route-running maven in a receiver-friendly offense who could remain productive into his mid-30s a la Reggie Wayne, I think White is set up to return second- or third-round value in re-draft leagues. He'll benefit from a bad Atlanta defense and the 120-target void created by Tony Gonzalez's retirement.

36. Giovani Bernard -- The Jeremy Hill pick took air out of his sophomore breakout balloon, but I still think Gio ends up as a high-end RB2 in standard leagues and borderline RB1 in PPR. New OC Hue Jackson will increase Cincinnati's team rushing attempts, and Bernard will remain the club's primary passing-down back. After catching 56 passes as a rookie, Gio could push for 70 receptions in year two. I just don't envision Bernard getting enough all-purpose touches to become the next Ray Rice. He's in a backfield committee and will get vultured at the goal line by Hill.

Round Four

37. Torrey Smith -- It seems folks are sleeping on Smith this year, because I keep getting him in drafts, often in the fifth round and even recently in the sixth. New No. 2 receiver Steve Smith is 35, and arguably less of a threat for target volume than temporarily-demoted Marlon Brown. Dennis Pitta, 29, is coming off a severe hip injury. 25 and ascending, Torrey will play the heavy-usage No. 1 wideout role in Gary Kubiak's offense. Granted Andre Johnson is better than Smith, but here's a stat to keep in mind: During Johnson's last four healthy seasons under Kubiak, he ranked second, sixth, first, and second among NFL receivers in targets. That will be Torrey's role, on the heels of finishing as the WR22 as a 24-year-old, and now entering a contract year. Yes, please.

38. Jordan Cameron -- Cameron's regression stat to be aware of is last year's 118 targets -- third most among tight ends -- in a tight end-friendly Norv Turner offense that led the NFL in pass attempts. Norv has been replaced by run-minded Kyle Shanahan. Still, Cameron is a 26-year-old basketball athlete who will be the focal point of Shanahan's passing attack following Josh Gordon's suspension. The arrow is pointing up on Cameron as a player. He's my TE4, behind Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, and Rob Gronkowski. I have Cameron comfortably ahead of Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis.

39. Matthew Stafford -- Still only 26, Stafford enters his sixth NFL season as my fantasy QB4, behind Peyton, Rodgers, and Brees. He can be acquired two to three rounds after the top three in average drafts, making Stafford something of a value-pick possibility for owners willing to select quarterbacks early. New Lions coach Jim Caldwell and OC Joe Lombardi are QB gurus, having previously tutored Manning and Brees, respectively. They are also pass-first minds who won't scale back Stafford's volume significantly. Golden Tate is a monster upgrade on Kris Durham, and rookie Eric Ebron gives Detroit serious playmaking ability down the seams. Calvin Johnson is Megatron. With improved coaching and weapons, I expect Stafford's efficiency to spike in 2014.

40. Bishop Sankey -- I watched four games of Sankey before the draft and didn't like him much. I thought he went down on first contact too often, and his short-area burst underwhelmed. I didn't think his running ability differed much from Vick Ballard. But his opportunity is impossible to ignore behind a talented Tennessee offensive line, and running backs like Sankey with standout combos of measurables and college production have a high NFL hit rate. Perhaps Sankey won't clear 4.0 YPC as a rookie, but neither did Zac Stacy and Le'Veon Bell. I see Sankey as a serious candidate for 17-22 touches per game. I'm not reaching for him, but I expect him to become a quality RB2.

41. Alfred Morris -- The concerns on Morris aren't rooted in his 2012-2013 fantasy-point dip -- his sophomore on-field performance was just as good as his rookie-year play -- it's the fact that the Redskins' offense has changed. Gone are run-game gurus Mike and Kyle Shanahan, replaced by pass-first mind Jay Gruden. Morris has struggled in the pass game throughout his college and pro careers, failing to exceed 15 receptions in any of the past six years. Roy Helu has 136 catches over that span, and consistently replaced Morris in passing scenarios under the Shanahans. I'm not sure Morris is a great fit for Washington's new offense. Gruden's 2013 tailback distribution in Cincinnati suggests Morris may be ticketed for a Green-Ellis role, while some combination of Helu, Chris Thompson, and/or rookie Lache Seastrunk becomes Gruden's new Giovani Bernard.

42. Victor Cruz -- Cruz posted three-year statistical lows across the board last season as New York's "broken" offense crumbled without a dangerous perimeter threat to free up its dynamic slot receiver. New OC Ben McAdoo has scrapped Kevin Gilbride's vertical scheme and replaced it with a quick-hitting, Packers-style attack that will get the ball out of Eli Manning's hands quickly, theoretically masking pass-blocking deficiencies and making the team less reliant on a dominant "X" receiver to clear space. Cruz doesn't get the benefit of playing with Aaron Rodgers, of course, but is ticketed for the high-volume Randall Cobb role, which should get him back around 90 receptions. Cruz may not go deep as often, but should capitalize on the higher-percentage routes. Still only 27, Cruz is a pretty safe bet for a bounce-back year. I'd feel good with Cruz as my WR2.

43. Michael Crabtree -- Give Crabtree a momentary pass for last year's Achilles'-wrecked season. Including playoffs the season before, Crabtree piled up 61 catches for 880 yards and eight touchdowns across ten Colin Kaepernick starts, numbers that extrapolate to 98-1,408-13 over a full 16-game schedule. That pace would've made him a top-four fantasy wideout over the course of last year. Expecting that level of production in 2014 is unrealistic on a run-first team with better weapons, but should still pique fantasy interest. Additionally, multiple beat writers have predicted the 49ers will throw more this year, and a defensive step back is likely minus Navorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Not yet 27 and in a contract season, Crabtree offers value at his late-fourth-round ADP.

44. Vincent Jackson -- V-Jax finished as last year's fantasy WR14 on the strength of the sixth most targets among NFL wide receivers and the second most yards (1,224) of his career, on a bad Buccaneers team. I happen to believe the Bucs will be much better this year, which could depress passing under run-oriented new coach Lovie Smith. Tampa Bay is also much stronger at the skill positions, with No. 7 overall pick Mike Evans now flanking Jackson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end, and Doug Martin healthy. This team will be far less reliant on V-Jax to carry its offense on a weekly basis. Beware of last year's stats and downgrade Jackson further in PPR.

45. Marques Colston -- Colston's ADP still feels the sting of last year's sluggish first half, as he's currently lasting until round seven. Ostensibly forgotten is his white-hot second half. Colston returned from a midseason knee injury to post a 61-761-5 line over the last ten games, playoffs included. It's a 98-catch, 1,213-yard, eight-score 16-game pace. Colston may seem over the hill, but he just turned 31. Also, there is arguably more opportunity in New Orleans this year, as rookie Brandin Cooks alone can't replace Darren Sproles and Lance Moore's 108 combined catches. Colston should resume steady annual WR2 production at the draft-day cost of a WR3.

46. Joique Bell -- Perhaps the highest-impact fallout from Detroit's offseason coaching change is the removal of OC Scott Linehan in favor of ex-Saints QBs coach Joe Lombardi, whose history with Sean Payton hints at a strong willingness to utilize running back committees. After the Lions signed him to a three-year extension, my expectation is that versatile 28-year-old Bell will play a combination of the Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram roles, leading Detroit in carries while staying very active in the passing game. Despite sharing the Lions' 2013 backfield with Reggie Bush, Bell finished as the fantasy RB17 on the strength of eight TDs and a Chris Ivoryish running style. Bell should remain Detroit's primary red-zone runner, and has 50-plus catches in back-to-back years.

47. Reggie Bush -- In PPR, I'd swap Bell and Bush in these rankings. Lombardi knows Bush well, having spent four seasons with him in New Orleans. Bush averaged 4.68 receptions per game on those teams, good for a 75-reception extrapolation over a full season. Although he may disappoint in the scoring and rushing categories, Bush can compensate with generous passing-game usage. At age 29, I consider Bush a high-ceiling PPR RB2 and respectable RB2 in standard leagues.

48. Andre Ellington -- I have Ellington ranked where I probably won't get him, but also right where I'm willing to take him. I think he'll disappoint top-three-round drafters because he won't get the volume Bruce Arians has jokingly promised, and his per-play effectiveness is a lock to decline on heavier workloads. Coming off a rookie season where Ellington saw only three carries inside the five-yard line, he'll continue to cede goal-line work to Jonathan Dwyer or Stepfan Taylor, and is an injury risk if banged too often inside. Ellington also plays in the run-stingy NFC West. The ceiling here seems intriguing, but there is a lot of risk that I'd ultimately rather let my opponents deal with.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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