NFL

X’s 2016 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings

X’s 2016 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings (8/14/16):

1. Cam Newton, CAR (last year’s preseason position rank: 10)

The reigning MVP of the league was nothing short of brilliant last year. He set a career high in TD passes with 35 (11 more than his previous career high) while throwing a career-low 10 INTs. With the impending return of his #1 target from 2014 Kelvin Benjamin, Newton could have another big passing season in store. What separates Newton from the pack continues to be his legs. He led the Panthers in rushing TDs for the fifth straight year, and since 2011 has more rushing TDs (43) than LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, and Matt Forte.

2. Aaron Rodgers, GB (last year’s preseason position rank: 2)

Needless to say, Jordy Nelson was sorely missed by Rodgers last year. Despite attempting a career high 572 passes, Rodgers had his lowest passing total of any season in which he started at least 15 games (3,821 yards). Last year, Rodgers averaged 238.8 passing yards per game and 6.7 yards per attempt. Over the previous two seasons, those averages were 276.7 yards per game and 8.5 yards per attempt. Nelson’s return should enable Rodgers to regain the level of production we grew accustomed to seeing before last year’s relatively modest numbers.

3. Drew Brees, NO (last year’s preseason position rank: 7)

Sean Payton’s words and the Saints’ 2015 offseason moves all indicated a slight change in philosophy – not being quite as reliant on the passing game as they had been in previous years. The result – Brees attempted over 620 passes for the eighth time in nine years, and led the league in passing yards for the fourth time in the last five seasons. He still finished tied for 7th in TD passes (32) despite throwing his fewest TDs since 2007 – a sign of how high his floor is. Increased athleticism to his weapons (Coby Fleener, Michael Thomas) gives Brees’ value a slight boost.

4. Russell Wilson, SEA (last year’s preseason position rank: 4)

For the first nine games of 2015, Wilson was ordinary at best. He threw 10 TDs and 7 INTs over that span, with only one game in which he threw multiple TDs. He also failed to hit 240 passing yards five times during that stretch. However, he was the best quarterback on the planet over the last seven weeks of the season – tossing 24 TDs and just 1 INT. He finished the year with 3+ TD passes in six out of seven games, and topping the 240 passing yard mark in all but one game. While that pace is unsustainable, it demonstrates just how high Wilson’s ceiling is. He could have an expanded role in the offense due to Marshawn Lynch’s retirement.

5. Tom Brady, NE (last year’s preseason position rank: 6)

I was on the record last year saying I did not believe Brady would be suspended in 2015, and I was proven right. It looks like the 4-game suspension will stand this time around, putting a small dent in Brady’s fantasy draft day value. Even with a 12-game season ahead, Brady remains a top fantasy option at QB based on his level of production. His 402 completions last year were a career high, while his 36 TD passes were the most in the league. Pairing Rob Gronkowski with Martellus Bennett can only mean good things for a quarterback who thrived in the past when he’s had two strong receiving option at tight end.

6. Andrew Luck, IND (last year’s preseason position rank: 1)

Between a dip in production and injuries, last season was a disappointing one for Luck. He missed nine games (shoulder, ribs, kidney) after never missing a game in his first three years. When on the field, he put up career lows of 6.4 yards per attempt and a 1.25 TD:INT ratio. However, fantasy football is largely about workload, and Luck should have a hefty one. Luck would have been on pace to attempt 670 passes over 16 games, which would have led the league. Now fully healthy (and of course fully paid), Luck should be able to do far more than he did last year with his ample opportunities to put up stats.

7. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (last year’s preseason position rank: 3)

Roethlisberger led the league with 328.2 passing yards per game in 2015. He has averaged over 300 yards per game in each of the last two seasons after never averaging 290 yards per game in any of his first ten seasons. Over his last 21 games, Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 340 yards 13 times. Losing Martavis Bryant (and his 14 TD catches in 21 career games) for the season (suspension) doesn’t help, but the Steelers should still be strong on offense. Roethlisberger led the league with 8 2-point conversions last year. He could receive a bump in value if Mike Tomlin continues to go for two more than everyone else.

8. Carson Palmer, ARI (last year’s preseason position rank: 14)

Health has been the main caveat for Palmer, and last year we witnessed what a healthy Palmer is capable of. Playing in all 16 games for just the second time in five seasons, he established career highs in passing yards (4,671), 300+ yard passing games (9), and TD passes (35). His career best 8.7 yards per pass attempt easily led the league, a reflection of how Palmer has been a perfect fit in Bruce Arians’ vertical-based passing offense. Palmer was the only QB last year to throw for over 4,400 yards while attempting fewer than 600 passes, an illustration of just how efficient he was.

9. Eli Manning, NYG (last year’s preseason position rank: 8)

For the first time in his career, Manning has thrown at least 30 TD passes in consecutive seasons. He joins Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees as the only four quarterbacks with 30+ TD tosses in each of the last two seasons, so he is keeping elite company in that regard. Manning has seen his pass attempts increase in each of the last three seasons, and there is no reason to believe the Giants won’t continue to lean on their passing game. If Sterling Shepard lives up to the offseason hype, Manning will have the luxury of throwing to an extremely dynamic wide receiver duo.

10. Philip Rivers, SD (last year’s preseason position rank: 15)

In eight games with Keenan Allen last year, Rivers averaged 344.3 passing yards per game, completed 69.9% of his passes, averaged 7.9 yards per pass, and threw 18 TDs. In eight games without Allen, those numbers declined sharply to 254.9 passing yards per game, 62.0% completions, 6.5 yards per attempt, and 11 TDs. Rivers’ production with Allen in the lineup suggests that he still has high-end fantasy value when his primary weapon is available. The Chargers’ run game and defense remain questionable, which could mean more heavy workloads for Rivers after attempting a league-leading 661 passes a season ago.

11. Jameis Winston, TB (last year’s preseason position rank: 21)

It was an uneven rookie season for Winston, but there were encouraging signs of progress. Winston posted a 6:7 TD:INT ratio in his first four games, but proceeded to throw 16 TDs and 8 INTs over his final twelve games. He threw for at least 295 yards in each of his final three games after hitting that mark only once in his first thirteen games. His 6 rushing TDs ranked 2nd among QBs, and it will be a boost to his fantasy value if he remains a running threat in the red zone. His conditioning is reportedly much improved, and his coaches have said they’ll put more on his plate. The arrow is pointing up for Winston (especially if Mike Evans stops dropping passes).

12. Tony Romo, DAL (last year’s preseason position rank: 9)

The 2015 season was a nightmare for Romo, who threw almost as many INTs in four games (7) as he did in fifteen games two years ago (9). A newly-reinforced left collarbone and the return of a healthy Dez Bryant are reasons to be optimistic for a bounce back season. Two years ago, Romo became the first QB since 2007 to throw over 30 TD passes while having fewer than 450 pass attempts. So while the Cowboys will look to throw less and focus on the run game (similar to their 2014 offensive approach), a lighter workload could prove to be beneficial to Romo’s production (and durability).

13. Andy Dalton, CIN (last year’s preseason position rank: 23)

Prior to breaking his thumb in Week 14, Dalton was having a career year last season. He established career highs in yards per attempt (8.4) and completion percentage (66.1%), while throwing fewer than 1 INT per game for the first time since his rookie season in 2011. His five games with 3 TD passes was only one fewer than Tom Brady had in a full 16 games. The concern for Dalton is that he failed to reach 250 passing yards in all but one game after Week 5. Tyler Eifert (who caught 48% of Dalton’s TD passes last year) coming off of offseason ankle surgery and Brandon LaFell replacing Marvin Jones are factors that work against Dalton’s fantasy stock.

14. Tyrod Taylor, BUF (last year’s preseason position rank: 29)

Taylor was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015 season, for both fantasy and reality purposes. His sterling 20:6 TD:INT ratio only got better as the season went on (12 TDs, 2 INTs over his last ten games). His fantasy value got a huge boost with him rushing for 40+ yards in nine of his fourteen starts. Limited opportunities to throw the ball could cap Taylor’s fantasy ceiling. Among QBs who made at least six appearances last year, Taylor ranked 33rd in pass attempts per game (27.1). His size and style of play create mild durability concerns. He missed two starts with a sprained MCL and was forced to battle through a shoulder injury during last season.

15. Derek Carr, OAK (last year’s preseason position rank: 22)

Carr showed some signs of progression in his second NFL season, and had stretches where he got hot. He threw for over 300 yards in four of five November games, and opened that month with consecutive 4 TD games. He made modest improvements in his completion percentage and yards per attempt, though he finished outside the top 20 in both of those categories. Carr did have a disappointing finish to the 2015 campaign, averaging just 218.4 passing yards over his last five games. If second-year players Amari Cooper and Clive Walford take their anticipated steps forward, Carr will greatly benefit.

16. Matthew Stafford, DET (last year’s preseason position rank: 13)

Sparked by a change in offensive coordinator to Jim Bob Cooter and a great home matchup against a porous Eagles defense, Stafford wrapped up the 2015 season with six straight games with multiple TD passes. Over that stretch, Stafford completed 72.3% of his passes and complied a 17:1 TD:INT ratio. Based on a strong finish, there is reason to believe Stafford could finally be putting it all together. Obviously the loss of a premium weapon like Calvin Johnson puts a damper on Stafford’s fantasy outlook. The acquisitions of Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin, and development of Eric Ebron should mitigate the loss of Megatron, but they won’t totally make up for it.

17. Kirk Cousins, WAS (last year’s preseason position rank: 26)

Cousins proved he can exploit favorable matchups at a high level last year. He had three games with over 300 passing yards and 4 passing TDs. Those games came against the Eagles (30th ranked defense), Saints (31st ranked defense), and Bills (who were without Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams in the secondary). Cousins threw for under 220 yards seven times last year (not counting the Week 17 game he was pulled from early), so questions about his consistency still linger. Despite not being a big running threat, Cousins had more rushing TDs (5) than the rest of his team combined (4). With no proven commodities in the backfield, he could receive more goal-to-go running opportunities.

18. Blake Bortles, JAX (last year’s preseason position rank: 30)

Bortles finished the 2015 season tied for 2nd in passing TDs, and was one of four QBs to have over 4,700 combined passing and rushing yards (joining Brees, Brady, and Rivers). Those were the positives. His league-worst 18 INTs and 23 total turnovers, along with his 58.6% completion percentage illustrate the flaws in his game that still remain. The Jaguars 31st ranked scoring defense and 27th ranked rushing offense contributed to Bortles having to do more than his coaches would have preferred. The addition of Chris Ivory in the backfield and a made over defense should lead to a lighter workload for Bortles, reducing his fantasy value.

19. Matt Ryan, ATL (last year’s preseason position rank: 12)

Ryan is one of two QBs to throw over 600 passes in each of the last three seasons. Yet he is not among the sixteen QBs with at least one season of 30+ TD passes in that span. The opportunities have been there for Ryan, but the results haven’t. Even with a heavy workload, a premium weapon in the passing game (Julio Jones), and a well-respected offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan), Ryan somehow managed the second lowest TD total of his eight-year career (21), and second highest INT total (16). Ryan has been underwhelming at times in his career, but one would think there are too many favorable factors surrounding him to not improve from last year.

20. Ryan Tannehill, MIA (last year’s preseason position rank: 11)

Despite setting career highs in passing yards (4,210), yards per attempt (7.2), and 300-yard games (6), last season was a disappointment for Tannehill. He started the season by throwing 9 INTs in his first seven games, and finished the season with a mere 4 TD passes over his last five games. The Dolphins have brought in a renowned offensive coach in Adam Gase. The explosive DeVante Parker is finally healthy, and rookie Leonte Carroo has been added to the mix. Arian Foster is an excellent receiving RB when healthy. The pieces are in place – it’s time for Tannehill to start delivering on a consistent basis.

21. Marcus Mariota, TEN (last year’s preseason position rank: 24)

The overriding theme of the Titans’ offensive approach to the 2016 season has been condensed to one hashtag – #ExoticSmashmouth. While the term is catchy (for better or worse), it doesn’t bode well for Mariota’s fantasy value. Trading for high-priced DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry suggest Tennessee is committed to leaning on the run, and not Mariota’s arm. The hope is that this ground-based attack means more runs for Mariota himself. He is too gifted a runner to have fewer rushing attempts per game than guys like Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick like he had last year.

22. Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ (last year’s preseason position rank: 27)

It was not a very efficient season for Fitzpatrick last year, as indicated by his subpar 59.6% completion percentage and 6.9 yards per pass attempt (ranked outside of top 25 QBs in both categories). However, he was solid for fantasy purposes due to his stud WR duo. 80.6% of Fitzpatrick’s TD passes (25 out of 31) went to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. As long as he gets to throw to them, Fitzpatrick will carry some fantasy value. Adding another pass catcher to the backfield in Matt Forte and the impending return of Jace Amaro should help the Jets’ passing game a bit.

23. Joe Flacco, BAL (last year’s preseason position rank: 20)

Before he went down after a Week 11 ACL tear, Flacco was on pace to attempt 661 passes – which would have tied Philip Rivers for the NFL lead. Even with backup QBs finishing out the last six games of the season, the Ravens still led the league in passing attempts. The opportunities should be there for Flacco, but the pass-catching personnel is questionable. Concerns about the health of Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, and the effectiveness of Mike Wallace dampen Flacco’s fantasy outlook. Flacco’s 46 INTs over his last 42 games is a problem as well.

24. Alex Smith, KC (last year’s preseason position rank: 25)

Smith threw for a career-high 3,486 yards in 2015, which ranked 20th in the league. This is a clear illustration of just how low Smith’s ceiling is for passing stats. He threw for under 200 yards eight times last year, including in each of his final five games. Smith’s ability to pick up yardage by running is the saving grace to his fantasy value. His 498 rushing yards were also a career high, and 4th among QBs. He had at least 5 rushing attempts in eight of his last nine games, rushing for over 30 yards on seven occasions during that stretch. If Smith keeps running, he’ll carry a bit of sneaky fantasy value.

25. Brock Osweiler, HOU (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

While the Texans are known as a run-oriented team, they did tie for the 9th most passing attempts in the league last season. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett attempted 35 or more passes in seven of their fourteen combined starts. Considering the almost franchise-level deal Houston signed Osweiler to, they’ll likely to be inclined to give him more opportunities than they gave to those backup-caliber QBs. Osweiler threw for 250+ yards in five of his seven starts with the Broncos. It’s a small sample size, but perhaps an indication that he may have a decent floor even if his ceiling is relatively low.

26. Jay Cutler, CHI (last year’s preseason position rank: 19)

The Bears dealt with all sorts of injuries at the offensive skill positions last year, which undoubtedly contributed to Cutler’s mediocre fantasy output. His decreased workload over the latter portion of the season didn’t help either. Through Week 9, Cutler attempted at least 33 passes in every game – with four games with 40+ attempts.But from Week 10 on, he only threw 33+ times in a game once. This was part of the reason Cutler threw a modest 8 TDs over his last seven games. Limited opportunities and significant durability concerns with all of his pass catchers make Cutler a shaky fantasy option.

27. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN (last year’s preseason position rank: 16)

In 29 career games, Bridgewater has only thrown 28 career TD passes. In an era of inflated passing stats, throwing just under 1 TD per game makes him a useless fantasy commodity in all but the deepest of leagues. Fantasy football is largely about opportunities, and Bridgewater simply doesn’t get enough of them. Despite starting all sixteen games, Bridgewater attempted a mere 447 passes. That’s fewer attempts than Ben Roethlisberger had in 12 starts, and only 34 more attempts than Joe Flacco had in 10 starts. Unless your league gives points for handoffs, Bridgewater won’t do much for you.

28. Sam Bradford, PHI (last year’s preseason position rank: 17)

To Bradford’s credit, he stayed on the field more than most people thought he would and wound up throwing for a career-best 3,725 yards. There was no easing him back into the mix, as Bradford attempted 52 passes in his first game in a year and a half. He ended up ranking 9th among QBs with at least three starts in passes per game. However, he goes from having the aggressive Chip Kelly running the offense to the much more conservative Doug Pederson. While Pederson will certainly look to reduce Bradford’s workload from last year, the Eagles’ porous defense is likely to force Pederson to air it out a bit more than he would like.

29. Robert Griffin III, CLE (last year’s preseason position rank: 35)

There is a ton of uncertainty surrounding Griffin, which makes him a volatile fantasy asset at best. As everyone is aware, Griffin was benched/deactivated for the entire 2015 season, and has only appeared seven games since September 15, 2014. Griffin has turned the ball over 26 times in his last 22 games, a trend that needs to end if he has any shot at redemption this year. The Browns’ offensive line is replacing two very good players (Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz) with unproven commodities. Even Josh Gordon is a major question mark, assuming he makes it back to the field and stays on it. There is upside here, but it feels like too many concerning factors are in play to expect reliable results.

30. Blaine Gabbert, SF (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

Shockingly, Gabbert showed signs of life last year after being completely irrelevant for the previous couple of seasons. He threw for 354 yards in his last game against the Rams, and 318 earlier in the season against a good Cardinals defense. Those were the two highest yardage games of Gabbert’s career. He also ran for 75 yards in another game after never for running for more than 98 yards in a season before. Gabbert appeared to gain a lot more confidence last year than he ever had in Jacksonville. His role on the team might end up being a week-to-week proposition, but for the first time it looks like there might be a little something here.

31. Jared Goff, LA (last year’s preseason position rank: N/A – rookie)

Rams QBs attempted 30 passes or less in ten of sixteen games last year, and finished last in the NFL in total completions. While Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin had occasional outbursts as receiving threats, this remains a low-volume passing offense lacking a true go-to target. Without premier weapons, and being inserted into an offense that projects to be heavily run-oriented, Goff’s fantasy value is minimal. Though some “rookie coachspeak” could be in play, the fact that Goff hasn’t been able to clearly separate himself from a replacement level QB like Case Keenum clearly indicates expectations should be low in year one.

32. Mark Sanchez, DEN (last year’s preseason position rank: 33)

Whoever wins the starting job in Denver will have the chance to throw to a prolific pair of receivers. Even with a down year at the quarterback position for the Broncos, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were able to combine for over 2,400 yards. However, as we saw last year, Gary Kubiak will not hesitate to bench a QB who is turning the ball over. Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler were both benched after games with 3+ turnovers. Sanchez has been turnover prone in his career (71 turnovers in his last 44 games), and will have a short leash if he doesn’t cut those mistakes down.

33. Jimmy Garoppolo, NE (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

It is rare that you have a situation where you know the backup QB will receive playing time going into a season. But thanks to the Tom Brady 4-game suspension, this is the case for Garoppolo. The Patriots are always opponent-specific with their game plans, and will likely put the ball in Garoppolo’s hands if they think an opposing defense is vulnerable through the air. Garoppolo faces a tough week 1 challenge (at Arizona), but then will get three consecutive home games which may help him settle into his short term assignment.

34. Case Keenum, LA (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

In five starts last year, Keenum averaged 25 pass attempts per game and threw for under 140 yards three times. It appears that Keenum may serve as a bit of a bridge QB for rookie Jared Goff, but for as long as he is the starting QB for the Rams he’ll have a very limited ceiling. If nothing else, Keenum did a nice job of protecting the football (1 INT in 125 pass attempts) so that may buy him a bit of time. Ultimately it would be surprising if Keenum made more starts than Goff this year.

35. Josh McCown, CLE (last year’s preseason position rank: 32)

For the second time in three seasons, McCown was able to string together a series of three straight games with 340+ yards passing. He has proven he can be successful as a starter in short spurts. Given that he is playing a QB in Robert Griffin III who has had issues with durability and consistency, and is coming off of a year of virtual inactivity, it is feasible that McCown gets another one of those “short-stint” opportunities this year. There is an outside chance McCown gets traded if another team loses their starter, adding a bit of intrigue.

36. Colin Kaepernick, SF (last year’s preseason position rank: 18)

Coming off of offseason surgeries on his left shoulder, left knee, and right thumb, Kaepernick has a lot of work to do to rebuild his value. Even if he is not the Week 1 starter, he could get a look from Chip Kelly at some point if the 49ers aren’t competitive with Blaine Gabbert under center.

37. Trevor Siemian, DEN (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

Not too long ago it would have seemed far-fetched, but it is feasible that Trevor Siemian could see meaningful playing time. While he carries a low ceiling, Siemian could be seen as a stabilizer at QB if Mark Sanchez plays erratically and rookie Paxton Lynch isn’t deemed ready.

 38. Chase Daniel, PHI (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)

Sam Bradford stayed relatively healthy last year, but still has not played in all sixteen games since 2012. Odds are good that an Eagles backup QB makes at least one start this year, and Daniel’s familiarity with Doug Pederson’s offense would make the transition smoother if a reserve is needed.

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings

For X’s Fantasy QB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/xs-2015-fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy RB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/xs-2015-fantasy-football-running-back-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy WR rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/xs-2015-fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings/

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings (9/5/15):

1. Rob Gronkowski, NE

Gronkowski has scored double digit TDs in each of the four seasons in which he has played more than seven games. He scored 8 TDs in his last eight games last year, and ripped off a stretch of ten straight games with over 60 yards (had over 90 yards six times over that span). Gronk is a mild injury risk but he’s easily the best TE in the game right now.

2. Jimmy Graham, SEA

There are concerns about Graham’s fantasy outlook after going from a pass-happy offense in New Orleans to a run-based offense in Seattle. The Seahawks didn’t trade a pro-bowl center and a first round pick to acquire a tight end they didn’t have big plans for. Even if he doesn’t hit the 85+ receptions he has in each of the last four years, he’s still a solid bet to catch 9+ TDs for the fifth straight year.

3. Greg Olsen, CAR

There is one TE in the NFL who can say that he has at least 5 TD catches in every year since 2008. His name is Greg Olsen. Last year, he had his first career 1,000 yard season and set a career high with 84 catches. With Kelvin Benjamin out for the season, Olsen’s role in the offense could expand even more as Cam Newton continues to rely on him as Carolina’s sole reliable target.

4. Martellus Bennett, CHI

Despite playing with the heavily targeted duo of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, it was Bennett who led all TEs with 90 receptions in 2014. Last year marked the third straight season in which Bennett set new career highs in receptions and yards, and he also scored a career-high 6 TDs. Now that Brandon Marshall is gone, Bennett could see a few more red zone looks making him that much more valuable.

5. Travis Kelce, KC

Kelce finished last season ranked 23rd among TEs in percentage of snaps played (keep in mind several TEs ranked below him only because they missed games and Kelce didn’t), just behind former teammate Anthony Fasano. Now that Fasano is out of the way, Kelce should see more snaps which of course raises his fantasy ceiling. Kelce has more lost fumbles (3) than TDs (1) in his last eight games, so fantasy owners will hope for improvement in those areas and should see some.

6. Jason Witten, DAL

Thanks to the Cowboys going to a highly run-heavy offense last year, Witten had his worst statistical season since 2006. Despite that, he still managed to rank among the top ten TEs in receptions and receiving yards. Old reliable Witten has one of the highest floors for TEs in fantasy, keeping his stock strong. DeMarco Murray’s departure most likely means more passing from Dallas’ offense, which means good things for Witten’s numbers.

7. Tyler Eifert, CIN

A significant elbow injury cost Eifert all but one game in 2014, but heading into this year he is a breakout candidate. Jermaine Gresham is one of eleven TEs to catch at least 60 passes last year as the Bengals’ go-to TE. Eifert is more athletic than Gresham and should provide Dalton with a more dynamic target at the position. Eifert is said to be having a strong summer, and has a fairly high fantasy ceiling.

8. Delanie Walker, TEN

Due to a struggling run game and an underwhelming WR corps, Walker finished in the top 5 among TEs in targets. It’s possible that neither of those issues will prove to be resolved in Tennessee this year, so Walker should continue to remain a top option for the Titans offense. If so, the upgrade from Locker/Whitehurst/Mettenberger to Mariota means Walker has a shot to improve on last year’s career season.

9. Antonio Gates, SD

While the four-game suspension diminishes Gates’ fantasy value, he remains a top ten option at the shallowest position in fantasy. His 12 TD receptions from last year was more than he had in 2012 and 2013 combined, and was his highest total since 2004. Gates averaged 5.8 catches over his last five games, and even going into his age 35 season, he should remain highly involved in the offense once he returns.

10. Jordan Cameron, MIA

There aren’t many TEs that can be looked at as big play threats, but that is what Cameron was last year as he averaged 17.7 yards per catch. Charles Clay’s 6 targets per game from last year bodes well for Cameron receiving more opportunities to make plays in Miami. Cameron does have a concussion history, so fantasy owners should be aware of that when deciding how much they want to invest in him.

11. Julius Thomas, JAX

Thomas’ high fantasy value over the last two years was based on his 24 TD catches over his last 27 games. He won’t be getting the red zone opportunities in Jacksonville that he had in Denver, so his fantasy stock declines sharply this year. Thomas tends to get banged up (as exemplified by his recent hand surgery) and doesn’t play well through injuries (66 total receiving yards and 0 TD in his last four games while dealing with an ankle sprain), so he is a very risky fantasy asset.

12. Coby Fleener, IND

Fleener enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season last year, finishing among the top eight in TEs in receiving yards (774) and receiving TDs (8). One thing to keep in mind is that 4 of Fleener’s 8 TD catches came in the three games Dwayne Allen missed last year. Allen’s presence and the Colts’ use of three-WR sets lower Fleener’s fantasy ceiling, but if anything were to happen to Allen then Fleener would reemerge as a top ten option.

13. Kyle Rudolph, MIN

Rudolph does not rank this highly on the list because of past production. He has never hit 500 receiving yards in a season and has only played in 17 out of a possible 32 games over the last two years. Rudolph gets placed here solely because he has a mildly high ceiling at a weak fantasy position. Having TE friendly Norv Turner calling plays and a year experience with Teddy Bridgewater, Rudolph has favorable conditions to be productive if he could just stay on the field.

14. Zach Ertz, PHI

Ertz showed tremendous upside in Week 16 of last season by bringing in a franchise record 15 receptions against the Washington Redskins. That one game accounted for more than one fourth of Ertz’ total catches for the season, and he only had one other game with more than 4 receptions. His inability to beat out Brent Celek for a full-time role limits his fantasy value. Undergoing groin surgery during the preseason doesn’t help his case either.

15. Heath Miller, PIT

Miller won’t be the most exciting player to own, but on a weekly basis he’ll at least offer a higher floor than most TEs. His 66 catches last year ranked 7th among TEs, and marked the fifth time in the last six years that he has had over 50 receptions in a season. The only thing thing keeping Miller’s value down is a total lack of red zone production. He only has 6 TDs in his last 38 games, a major drain on his fantasy value.

16. Vernon Davis, SF

It’s hard to imagine that Davis won’t improve on what was an absolutely disastrous 2014 season. Davis is a proven scoring threat, having caught 44 TD passes from 2009 to 2013. It would seem to take a series of unlikely and unfortunate circumstances for Davis to be held to 2 TD like he was last year. As a fantasy owner you can’t bank on a bounce back season from him, but at some point it’s well worth gambling on his ceiling even if it’s not as high as it was in 2013.

17. Jared Cook, STL

A notoriously frustrating asset within the fantasy community, Cook somewhat quietly finished 12th among TEs with 634 yards while reeling in a career-high 52 receptions. With Nick Foles now at the helm in St. Louis, Cook has a legitimate shot to improve on these numbers. Cook is very much hit-or-miss and can be streaky at times, but he can be a serviceable option for a bye week or if your fantasy starter has to miss a couple of weeks.

18. Dwayne Allen, IND

Allen has developed into a strong weapon in the red zone, and has scored 9 TDs in his last thirteen games. One of the problems for him is that he only has 30 receptions over that span, as he is not consistently involved in the offense. Durability is starting to become a problem for Allen as well. He missed three games last year and was limited in others. If you’re playing Allen, you’re just hoping he scores a TD as he did in seven if his first nine game last year.

19. Jordan Reed, WAS

In eleven games last year, Reed had three games with 70+ receiving yards and four games with 7+ catches. If the ranking was based solely on talent and potential, he has shown enough to be much higher on this list. However, he has missed twelve games over his first two seasons and already missed time over the summer with a hamstring issue. His next injury always seems to be around the corner, and his 3 TDs in 20 games isn’t too useful either.

20. Larry Donnell, NYG

Donnell looked like a true breakout candidate through the first four games of last season. He averaged 6.3 catches and 59.0 yards while scoring 4 TDs and was a red hot pickup in fantasy leagues. Then Odell Beckham Jr. came along and not coincidentally Donnell’s production declined. Donnell did not catch a TD over the final six games of the season (Beckham had 9 TD in that span) and failed to reach 30 receiving yards four times in that stretch. He may not be able to produce much with Beckham and (eventually) Victor Cruz around.

21. Charles Clay, BUF

The surprisingly huge investment the Bills made in acquiring Clay (5 years, $38 million with $20 million guaranteed) would suggest major plans for Clay. But once you look at the fact that this is projected to be a run-heavy offense with unproven QBs and solid options at WR, it’s hard to see how Clay would consistently put up good numbers. He’s a versatile player who finished strong last year (218 yards, 1 TD over his final three games), but he is tough to endorse in Buffalo’s offense.

22. Owen Daniels, DEN

Coming off of an injury-curtailed 2013 season, Daniels  put up decent production in Gary Kubiak’s offense last year. Even though he is not the athlete he once was, he is clearly a favorite of Kubiak and will continue to get opportunities based on that alone. Don’t expect Daniels to give the Broncos the same 12 TDs Julius Thomas gave them the last couple of years, but a #1 TE in a Peyton Manning offense has at least some value.

23. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB

Seferian-Jenkins’ rookie season was marred by injuries, making it tough to gauge his fantasy potential. The injury concerns go back to college, so it’s discouraging that he was only able to play in nine games as a rookie. If he can manage to stay healthy, Seferian-Jenkins is intriguing as a large and athletic target the Buccaneers would love to involve in the offense – even if he will see limited targets behind Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.

24. Mychal Rivera, OAK

Rivera was one of just six TEs to be targeted 100 times last year. While it’s a given his targets will fall due to the presence of better WRs on Oakland’s roster, it’s clear Derek Carr has a high level of trust in him. That connection should keep Rivera involved in the offense to some degree. The addition of Clive Walford had threatened Rivera’s role, but Walford’s hamstring injury in training camp probably earned Rivera some extra playing time.

25. Eric Ebron, DET

Ebron struggled his way to a 25-catch rookie season. He is still very athletic, and was drafted extremely high for a TE so the Lions have plenty of incentive to try to find more ways to get him involved. Ebron’s hands remain questionable and that’s not likely to change, but the team almost has to be patient with him given their investment. He has had a good summer and will be squarely on the fantasy radar if he can maximize his physical gifts.

26. Richard Rodgers, GB

Plenty of targets in Green Bay (around 150) are up for grabs with Jordy Nelson out. Rodgers could see a handful of those targets, giving a modest boost to his fantasy stock.

27. Crockett Gillmore, BAL

Outside of Steve Smith Sr., Joe Flacco doesn’t have a lot of proven weapons to work with in the passing game. Gillmore is unlikely to match Owen Daniels’ 48 catches from a year ago, but he remains ahead of rookie Maxx Williams and could contribute.

28. Ladarius Green, SD

Green has been a popular sleeper pick in the fantasy community for a couple of years but has never lived up to it. He’ll have a prime opportunity to show his worth while Antonio Gates serves a four-game suspension.

29. Brent Celek, PHI

Against the wishes of many fantasy owners, Celek is locked in as the starting TE for the Eagles. Playing in a full-time role, Celek will stumble into a bit of value. He has 32 catches in each of his seasons in the Chip Kelly offense.

30. Josh Hill, NO

Hill’s 5 TD catches in 2014 were tied for 11th among TEs. The Jimmy Graham trade seemingly opened up a big opportunity for him, but the coaches seem to prefer the less fantasy friendly Benjamin Watson. Hill is worth monitoring, but at the moment he doesn’t project to get many opportunities.

 

 

 

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

For X’s Fantasy QB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/xs-2015-fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy RB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/xs-2015-fantasy-football-running-back-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy TE rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/xs-2015-fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings/

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings (8/30/15):

1. Antonio Brown, PIT

Brown has been the epitome of fantasy football consistency. He is riding an NFL-record 33 straight games with at least 5 catches and at least 50 yards. He had at least 7 catches and 70 yards in each of the final eleven games from a season ago, with six 100+ yard receiving games in that span. Perhaps even more motivated by a huge contract being within reach, Brown is probably the safest non-QB asset in fantasy.

2. Dez Bryant, DAL

Playing in a run-oriented offense last year, Bryant still managed to lead the NFL with a career-high 16 TD catches. Bryant has caught at least 12 TDs in each of the last three seasons, and his 41 total TD receptions over that time frame are the most in the league. The Cowboys no longer have that bell cow RB to turn to, which means Bryant has an even higher ceiling this year.

3. Julio Jones, ATL

Jones finished last year 2nd in the NFL in receiving yards per game, and that was despite playing in multiple games at less than full strength with various hip/oblique/ankle ailments. He showed his fantasy potential in Weeks 14-16 of last year, when he picked up 555 yards over a three-game span. If the Falcons can finally figure out how to maximize him in the red zone (8 TDs in his last 21 games) he will be a fantasy beast.

4. Odell Beckham Jr., NYG

We’ve never seen a wide receiver burst on the scene the way Beckham did last year. After a modest start as he recovered from a hamstring injury, Beckham turned it on in a major way. He tied an NFL record by recording 90+ receiving yards in nine straight games. That dominant stretch included six games with 130+ yards. If his hamstrings hold up, Beckham could overtake the #1 spot in this list.

5. Calvin Johnson, DET

An ankle injury played a large role in Johnson having his least productive year since 2009 (Matthew Stafford’s rookie season). Still, Johnson managed to put up his fifth straight season with 70+ catches and 1,000+ yards – a reminder of how high his floor remains. Three of Megatron’s five 100+ yard games last season came in the final five weeks, and if he can avoid getting nicked again his production should stay at that level.

Jordy Nelson, GB (out for season – torn ACL)

Nelson continues to ascend in one of the league’s most prolific offenses. Last season was the second year in a row in which he set new career highs in receptions and receiving yards. Nelson was a highly consistent scoring threat as well, as he never had back-to-back games without a TD. He projects to be one of the steadiest fantasy assets in the league once again.

6. Demaryius Thomas, DEN

Thomas is the only player in the NFL with at least 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons. Last year, he obliterated that mark, finishing 2nd in the league with 1,619 yards. He has also recorded over 90 catches and double-digit TDs in each of the last three years. Denver is expected the run the ball more than they have during the Peyton Manning era, but Thomas is too good to be overly impacted by that.

7. A.J. Green, CIN

A problematic toe injury caused Green to have his least productive season as a pro last year. Still, Green’s career lows of 1,041 receiving yards and 6 TDs were useful for fantasy owners. Improved health and Andy Dalton getting more comfortable in Hue Jackson’s offense would certainly help him get back closer to his 2012-2013 level of production. Playing in a run-heavy offense means his ceiling is a little lower than the WRs ranked above him.

8. Mike Evans, TB

Evans is going to be a significant scoring threat each and every week he is out there. Despite mediocre quarterback play, he caught 10 TD passes in the final nine games of his rookie campaign. He set franchise records for most TD catches in a season (12) and most receiving yards over a three-game stretch (458). With a more talented QB who is more willing to toss up jump balls to big targets, Evans is primed for a major impact.

9. T.Y. Hilton, IND

From Week 6 to Week 12 of last season, there was a six-game stretch in which Hilton had four games where he scored a TD and averaged over 23 yards per reception. He is a big play threat, and that was exemplified during that run. He plays with an aggressive QB in Andrew Luck, and his recent contract extension is a clear sign that the team has major plans to continue to take advantage of his explosiveness.

10.  Alshon Jeffery, CHI

Jeffery got hot late last season, catching at least 1 TD pass in all six games from Week 11 to Week 16. He also had 70+ receiving yards in five of those six games. With Brandon Marshall now gone, Jeffery becomes the clear cut #1 WR in this offense. He also has one less big receiver to compete with for red zone targets. Assuming all gets well with his training camp calf injury, Jeffery has a chance to approach the 1,421 yards he put up in 2013.

11. Randall Cobb, GB

When Cobb signed a free agent deal which was larger than Jordy Nelson’s deal, it raised a few eyebrows in the sports world. Now that Nelson is out for the season (ACL) Cobb has a golden opportunity to prove he was worth the investment. Cobb is coming off of his first 1,000+ yard season, and his 12 receiving TDs last year were 1 fewer than his career total heading into last year. He stepped up big in a contract year, but now has to prove he’s a legitimate #1 WR in the NFL.

12. DeAndre Hopkins, HOU

Hopkins’ breakout 1,210 yard season from a year ago came despite having Andre Johnson around. Now that Johnson, who was targeted over 140 times in 2014, is gone Hopkins is locked in as the go-to WR in Houston. Hopkins’ season ended in disappointing fashion with just 43 yards total over his final two games. Blame Case Keenum for that. The Hoyer/Mallett combination should be better for Hopkins than Keenum was.

13. Amari Cooper, OAK

We saw some big seasons from rookie WRs last year (Odell Beckham Jr, Mike Evans, and Kelvin Benjamin immediately come to mind) and Cooper could have that kind of impact in 2015. It is apparent that the Raiders plan to use Cooper in a large variety of ways and will look to force-feed him as much as possible. Expect a very high usage rate here, which will mean only good things for the precision route runner.

14. Jordan Matthews, PHI

In each of Chip Kelly’s two years coaching the Eagles, his offense has produced a 1,300 yard receiver. Stepping into the #1 WR role for the Eagles this year is Matthews. He was overshadowed by bigger names in his draft class, but Matthews is coming off of a solid rookie season in which he had 8 TD receptions. All reports indicate he has looked faster and better in camp, and he should be the next WR to post big numbers in the Kelly system.

Kelvin Benjamin, CAR (out for season – torn ACL)

It took Benjamin no time at all to prove his value to Carolina’s air attack last season. He caught a TD pass in five of his first seven games, immediately establishing himself as the new #1 WR in the Panthers’ offense. Only five players in the league saw more targets than Benjamin did in 2014, and he was relentlessly targeted whether he had broken away from coverage or not. No veteran help was brought in, so he should continue to be a high volume productive receiver.

15. Brandon Marshall, NYJ

Playing under Chan Gailey should be beneficial for Marshall. Gailey had current Chargers WR Steve Johnson in Buffalo from 2010 to 2012, and those just happen to be the only three 1,000 yard seasons of Johnson’s career. Don’t be scared off by Marshall having Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB. DeAndre Hopkins managed to have a breakout year in Houston with Fitzpatrick, and Fitzpatrick had his best seasons in the Gailey offense.

16. Emmanuel Sanders, DEN

It’s hard to put a guy this far down the rankings who is coming off of a season with over 100 catches and over 1,400 yards. However, with Gary Kubiak and his run-oriented offense coming to town we can expect Sanders’ career numbers from last year to decrease in 2015. Just ask him – Sanders says “My goal is really to try to get 1,000 yards to just help this team win ball games.” (source – denverbroncos.com) He can still go well over 1,000 yards with Peyton Manning still at the helm but probably will fall short of another 1,400-yard season.

17. DeSean Jackson, WAS

The quarterback carousel in Washington did not stop Jackson from posting his second straight season with over 1,100 yards. His 20.9 yards per catch was a full 3 yards more than any player in the league with at least 30 receptions, and was his highest average since 2010. The instability at QB isn’t going away any time soon, but Jackson has proven to be capable of big plays and games no matter what happens under center.

18. Andre Johnson, IND

Usually, a 34-year-old player who saw a 468 yard decline in yardage from two years ago to last year (despite only playing one fewer game) would not be ranked this highly. An exception has to be made for Johnson. First of all, Andrew Luck is far and away the best QB Johnson has ever played with. Also keep in mind he had back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013 with over 100 receptions and 1,400 yards. Despite playing a complementary role to T.Y. Hilton, Johnson is almost guaranteed to bounce back in the Colts’ offense.

19. Jeremy Maclin, KC

Maclin bounced back from a lost 2013 season by having far and away the best season of his career in 2014. He will now be reunited with his former coach in Philadelphia in Andy Reid. Maclin appears to be better than ever now, but it is worth noting that he never reached 1,000 yards in his previous four years under Reid and only reached 900 yards once. Having the overly cautious Alex Smith at QB could stunt his fantasy value.

20. Brandin Cooks, NO

Getting targets shouldn’t be a problem for Cooks. Before going down with injury last year, he averaged just under 7 targets per game. With Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills out of the way, that number has a chance to increase even with the Saints projected to throw the ball less often. The only issue is whether Cooks can consistently make plays down the field. His mediocre 10.4 yards per catch last year kept his value down (especially in non-PPR leagues). He’s showing an expanded route tree in the preseason which is a great sign.

21. Keenan Allen, SD

Allen had more catches in his mildly disappointing sophomore season than he did in his impressive rookie season. Opportunities weren’t the issue with Allen in 2014, doing something with those opportunities was the issue. His 10.2 yards per catch ranked outside of the top 100 qualifiers last year after ranking 28th in that category in 2013. The opportunities will once again be there for Allen this year. He is reported to be leaner and quicker in camp this year, so a return to his rookie year form is well within reach.

22. Golden Tate III, DET

We learned last year that Tate has an awfully high ceiling if anything were to happen with Calvin Johnson from an injury perspective. In weeks 4-9 when Johnson was either unavailable or significantly limited, Tate had four games of 110+ yards and in three of those games he went for 130+ yards with a TD. Johnson is fully healthy right now which pushes Tate back to a complementary role in the Lions’ offense. Still, even if Johnson is healthy for all sixteen games Tate is a solid bet for another productive season.

23. Charles Johnson, MIN

We saw the potential of the Norv Turner effect on WRs in 2013 when Josh Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards. Johnson may not be quite as talented as Gordon, but as far as physical tools go he is not too far off. Turner has been a fan of Johnson’s for a while and brought him over from Cleveland when he took the coordinator job in Minnesota. Johnson flashed some potential last year. If you project his numbers from Week 11 to Week 15, he would have 1,136 yards and 6 TDs over a full season. With a clear role and an ascending QB, he is primed to break out.

24. Sammy Watkins, BUF

Watkins only needed two games to have his first career 100-yard performance. From a pure talent perspective, he has more than enough ability to be much higher on this list. Question marks at the quarterback position are the main things keeping his ranking down. Tyrod Taylor could be a major wild card in that factor, and if he emerges as just a decent option, Watkins can get closer to his ceiling. Playing in a run-based offense doesn’t help Watkins either, but his explosiveness can mitigate the impact of having fewer opportunities than some of his peers.

25. Steve Smith Sr., BAL

In his first year in Baltimore, Smith was nothing short of dominant to start the 2014 season. In his first seven games, he had four 100+ yard games, one game under 50 yards, and 4 TDs. In his final nine games, he had no 100+ yards games, six games under 50 yards, and 2 TDs. Smith is the unquestioned #1 target for Joe Flacco this year, but based on last year’s numbers there has to be concern as to whether or not he can carry a passing offense for an entire season at age 36.

26. John Brown, ARI

As a rookie, Brown managed to tie Larry Fitzgerald for the team lead with 103 targets. Fitzgerald is almost exclusively a possession receiver at this stage of his career, while Michael Floyd has become almost a deep ball specialist. Brown, though not necessarily #1 on the depth chart, looks like the team’s most complete receiver with the ability to attack short, medium, and deep. He has added about 10 pounds of muscle from his rookie year. Brown is one of my favorite “risers” who will turn heads this year if Carson Palmer stays healthy.

27. Torrey Smith, SF

On paper, San Francisco appears to be an excellent landing spot for Smith from a fantasy perspective. The 49ers are expected to open up the offense (either by design or by necessity) this year, so Smith should get plenty of deep looks. Colin Kaepernick is known for his big arm, and Smith is easily the best deep threat he has ever had so he may be quite anxious to test his new weapon out. Smith was highly inconsistent last year, but did catch 5 TDs in his final five games.

28. Vincent Jackson, TB

Jackson posted a career-low in yards per catch last year, and his 2 TD catches were his lowest total since his rookie year of 2005. Still, he did put up his third consecutive season with 70+ receptions and 1,000+ yards. Even though he isn’t the downfield threat he once was, he can still be productive. Jackson is now the clear-cut #2 WR in this offense behind Mike Evans, but moving around different formations in Dirk Koetter’s offense should keep him highly involved in the offense.

29. Jarvis Landry, MIA

Landry proved to be a reliable target during the second half of last season, catching at least 5 passes in each of his final nine games. He averaged 6.6 catches over that span, a pace for 105 receptions if projected over a full season. The troublesome part of the equation is that he averaged just 9.0 yards per catch, second worst among WRs. Because he’s not a big play threat, he has to become a big factor in the red zone. He has reportedly showed improvement in that area, which will make him a solid fantasy asset if true.

30. Davante Adams, GB

Adams showed some potential in Week 13 of last season with a 6 reception, 121 yard performance against the Patriots. However, that game was the only time after October that he went over 20 yards. With Jordy Nelson out for the season, the Packers need Adams to grow up in a hurry and help fill some very large shoes. He’ll play a key role in the offense, but it would be too much to expect Nelson or Randall Cobb type of numbers from the second year receiver.

31. Mike Wallace, MIN

Wallace just wrapped up his third consecutive season of less than 1,000 yards, although on the plus side he did tie a career high with 10 TD catches. He still has plenty of speed to burn, but his skill set didn’t mesh well with Ryan Tannehill or with Bill Lazor’s offense. With a fresh start, a better deep ball thrower in Teddy Bridgewater, and a more aggressive play caller in Norv Turner, Wallace has everything in place he could want. He’ll be the #2 WR in this offense but he should still have his share of explosive games.

32. Julian Edelman, NE

Over the last six games regular season games he played in, Edelman averaged 7.8 receptions per game – catching at least 7 passes in five of those six games. He will continue to be heavily involved in the offense, and maybe even see a slight uptick in targets in Brandon LaFell’s mysterious foot injury proves to be a long-term situation. Edelman isn’t a big producer around the goal line, although his 3 receiving TDs over his last six games are encouraging.

33. Anquan Boldin, SF

Boldin’s numbers took a bit of a dip last year, but he still managed to have his second straight season of over 80 catches and over 1,000 yards playing with Colin Kaepernick. Going on age 35, there is no reason to believe Boldin can’t still be productive. The 49ers will probably air the ball out a bit more than usual, and Torrey Smith’s presence outside could help open up the middle of the field for one of the toughest WRs in the game today.

34. Marques Colston, NO

Jimmy Graham, who caught 26 TDs over the last two seasons, is no longer around and someone is going to have to soak up some of those red zone targets. The 6’4” Colston is a candidate to benefit from an increase in red zone opportunities. He only has 10 total TD receptions over the last two years, but even in a more balanced offense he has a golden opportunity to become Drew Brees’ most trusted target around the goal line.

35. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI

It’s clear that when Carson Palmer is under center, Fitzgerald can still be a fantasy asset. Fitzgerald topped the 90-yard mark in three of the six games Palmer managed to start. However, his production falls off of a cliff when Palmer is out. Fitzgerald finished last season by failing to reach 40 yards in each of his last five games. He is still a solid fantasy asset to own, but just keep in mind he becomes nearly unstartable if anything happens to Palmer.

36. Roddy White, ATL

The opportunities will be there for White if he is healthy, the question is just how healthy will he be? After never missing a game from 2005 to 2012, White has missed a pair of games in each of the last two years while playing hobbled in others. Routine knee drainings and minor elbow surgery are mild concerns heading into the 2015 season. All of that said, he caught at least 6 passes in six of his last seven games. White can still produce when his body allows him to.

37. Eric Decker, NYJ

As expected, Decker’s numbers fell last year after leaving Peyton Manning’s Broncos and going to the Jets. Still, a 962 yard and 5 TD season is still impressive given how poor the quarterback play often was for the Jets in 2014. Ryan Fitzpatrick is far from elite, but he should at least stabilize the position to some degree. Decker did finish last season with a 221-yard performance, reminding us of what he is capable of with good QB play. He falls back into a #2 role for this season, but should still get his fair share of looks.

38. Allen Robinson, JAX

If you take away the 1-catch dud in his NFL debut, Robinson averaged 5.2 catches for 60.9 yards last year. Projected over 16 games, that would give you an 83 reception, 974 yard season. There is little reason to believe Robinson won’t lead the Jaguars’ WRs in targets by a wide margin this year. Limited scoring chances due to playing in a still developing offense and the presence of Julius Thomas as a red zone threat put a cap on Robinson’s fantasy potential.

39. Devin Funchess, CAR

Now that Kelvin Benjamin is lost for the season, the Panthers desperately need someone from their WR corps to step up and overachieve. In an ideal role, Funchess would be the guy. He is not as good as Benjamin, so it wouldn’t be fair to expect the same level of production from him. However, Funchess will be placed into the Benjamin role and although not quite as big he is similar in stature. He should be force-fed at times, meaning opportunities should be there.

40. Eddie Royal, CHI

The shin injury to Chicago’s top pick Kevin White ensures that Royal should have a significant role in this offense. Royal is coming off of his best season since his rookie year of 2008 and finished out by going over 80 yards in three of his last five games. He has shown an ability to be productive when given a chance, and he should have a significant chance with little WR depth in Chicago. Royal has 15 TD catches over the last two years despite playing in a complementary role, so he has a knack for finding the end zone.

41. Martavis Bryant, PIT

A four-game suspension puts a damper over what should be a breakout year year for Bryant. He is not an every down player, which means he’ll get a limited number of targets. His value comes from the fact that he is as good of a big play threat as there is in the league. His 21.1 yards per catch would have led the league if he had enough catches to qualify. He managed to scored 8 TDs on just 26 receptions. He’ll be a weekly boom-or-bust option when he returns, but even in a part-time role he can be a difference maker.

42. Kendall Wright, TEN

While it’s difficult to project how the distribution of targets will play out in Tennessee, it’s a safe bet that Wright will end up being the leader in targets. Mediocre QB play and missing a couple of games due to injury led to a 37 reception drop for Wright from 2013 to 2014. Marcus Mariota is an upgrade at the QB position, and Wright’s career highs in yards per reception (12.5) and TDs (6) are encouraging signs. He needs to find a way to create more big plays for his value to increase.

43. Brian Quick, STL

When Austin Davis was at his best last season, Quick posted solid numbers. Over the first four games of last year, Quick averaged 5.3 receptions and 80.5 yards with 3 TDs. That would have been on pace for an 84 reception, 1,288 yard, 12 TD season when projected for 16 games. Foles is not a great QB, but he should stabilize the position more than Davis and Shaun hill did last year. Quick is coming back from a serious shoulder injury, so there is still some question as to whether or not he can fully return to form.

44. Michael Floyd, ARI

Floyd was able to bookend the 2014 season with a pair of 100+ yard games, so he started and ended the season on a high note. In between those performances were five games in which he recorded either 0 or 1 catch. Floyd is a big play receiver who averaged over 19 yards per reception in each of his final four games. He runs a ton of low-percentage vertical routes, which makes him a real high-risk, high-reward option.

45. Percy Harvin, BUF

Joining his fourth team in four years, it has become nearly impossible to project what Harvin’s role in this offense will be. Working against him is the fact that he’s never had a 1,000 yard receiving season (although he did have over 1,300 yards from scrimmage in 2011) and the fact that we know this will be a run-oriented offense. Perhaps working in Harvin’s favor is that his 106 rushing attempts since 2011 suggest that he will touch the ball one way or another. If he can stay reasonably healthy (already dealing with a hip issue), he’s explosive enough to make the most out of even a handful of touches.

46. Markus Wheaton, PIT

Last year was supposed to be the breakout year for Wheaton. It started out promisingly enough (6 receptions, 97 yards in Week 1) but just never materialized. Wheaton has once again been advertised as a breakout candidate, and will have a great chance early on to validate that prediction. With Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant serving early season suspensions, Wheaton will be relied on a little more. We should know early if he is ready to take that next step.

47. Steve Johnson, SD

After being sorely underutilized in San Francisco, Johnson is in position to reemerge back to relevance with the Chargers. San Diego’s passing offense is predicated on lots of intermediate routes, and that is the area of the field in which Johnson does his best work. Eddie Royal saw 90+ targets last year, and most if not all of those targets could end up going to Johnson – especially with Antonio Gates beginning the season with a suspension.

48. Pierre Garcon, WAS

Garcon had one of the best seasons in franchise history in 2013, but after last year’s disappointing campaign 2013 feels like a distant memory. Still, even though it was DeSean Jackson who had the standout year for the Redskins, it was Garcon who once again led the team in targets. There aren’t any indications that the pecking order will change this year, so Garcon should once again get more than enough looks to have a decent season.

49. Victor Cruz, NYG

Cruz had over 100 receiving yards in each of the two games before Odell Beckham Jr. made his debut. However, in the 6+ quarters he did play alongside Beckham, Cruz only had 38 total receiving yards. Of course that is a small sample size, but it raises questions on how productive Cruz can be as second fiddle to Beckham. The bigger question is can Cruz be an effective player coming back from a torn patellar tendon? All of the uncertainty surrounding Cruz makes him a total roll of the dice in fantasy despite his past production.

50. Michael Crabtree, OAK

Crabtree’s 698 receiving yards from 2014 was the lowest total of his career for a full season (at least 12 games) and his 10.3 yards per catch were the worst of his career. It’s tough to judge Crabtree based off of last year because he was returning from an Achilles’ tear (which often takes two years to fully recover from) and he was part of a sinking ship in San Francisco. Now healthier and in a more stable situation, he is in good position to have a bounce back year even though he’ll likely see far fewer targets than Amari Cooper.

51. Nelson Agholor, PHI

Agholor will likely split snaps with blocking WR Riley Cooper and maybe Josh Huff. However, he should get enough snaps in a high-powered offense to get onto the fantasy radar.

52. Terrance Williams, DAL

Williams has shown a ton of playmaking ability, but frustratingly doesn’t get enough opportunities to be a reliable fantasy option.

53. DeVante Parker, MIA

Parker has a ton of potential and may be the most talented WR on the roster, but ongoing issues with his injured foot are troublesome.

54. Allen Hurns, JAX

Hurns has cemented the #2 WR spot for the Jaguars and although inconsistent, does bring big play ability to the table.

55. Kenny Stills, MIA

Stills had a mini-breakout at the end of last year with over 60 yards in four of his last five games. The only question is will there be enough targets left over in Miami for him if/when DeVante Parker returns.

56. Doug Baldwin, SEA

Baldwin is far from an exciting player, but he did catch multiple passes in every game last year and has a relatively high floor for a receiver ranked here.

57. Dwayne Bowe, CLE

Bowe did manage to reach 60 receptions in his infamous 0 TD season last year. Once again, he is the #1 WR in an uninspiring passing offense.

58. Marvin Jones, CIN

Jones is a wild card coming off of a significant foot/ankle injury. When he was healthy in 2013, he showed a nose for the end zone with 10 TD catches.

59. Kenny Britt, STL

Britt’s 48 catches from last year was actually a career high despite poor QB play. With Nick Foles at the helm, he has a shot at his first 50 catch season but not much more than that.

60. Brandon LaFell, NE

Based on his production from last year, LaFell deserves to be higher than this. His foot injury (of which we have no details) makes him a major gamble in fantasy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings

For X’s Fantasy QB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/xs-2015-fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy WR rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/xs-2015-fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy TE rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/xs-2015-fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings/

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings (8/17/15):

1. Le’Veon Bell, PIT

Starting the season with a two-game suspension takes a little air out of the balloon, but Bell’s fantasy stock remains extremely high. He got the ball a lot last year, finishing 3rd in the league in carries and 2nd among RBs in receptions. Bell had 25+ touches in seven games last year. That kind of workload makes him fantasy gold.

2. Adrian Peterson, MIN

This is an aggressive ranking for a 30-year-old RB coming off of a lost season, but Peterson is the exception to every rule. He did have 21 carries in his only game last year, and there’s no reason to expect for him not to touch the ball a ton. He had double digit rushing TDs in every season before last, and after the much less talented Matt Asiata rumbled for 9 rushing TDs last year, Peterson should be a threat for another 10+ TDs in 2015.

3. Marshawn Lynch, SEA

Last year Lynch set career highs in rushing TDs (13) and receiving TDs (4), and his 17 total TDs were most in the league. His 367 receiving yards were also a career high. Losing Max Unger from his offensive line doesn’t help, and Jimmy Graham could take away a handful of red zone opportunities from him this year. Despite this, Beast Mode remains a great bet for top 5 RB production.

4. Jamaal Charles, KC

Charles is highly efficient. He has averaged 5+ yards per carry in every season he has been in the league and his career average sits at 5.5 yards per rush. His consistency and explosiveness means a moderated workload shouldn’t hold him back. Charles’ 12 receiving TDs since 2013 leads all RBs. He benefits from playing with a QB who likes to throw TDs to non-WRs.

5. Eddie Lacy, GB

Lacy has developed into a strong three-down RB, which is great news for his fantasy outlook. He was one of three RBs last year to pick up 400+ receiving yards, while averaging 10+ yards per catch. That contribution in the passing game along with his rushing workload makes him a strong fantasy commodity. His 9 total TDs over his last eight games is a promising sign of things to come.

6. LeSean McCoy, BUF

McCoy fell short of sky high expectations last year, but he still has a very bright fantasy outlook. He is the only RB to have over 300 carries in each of the last two seasons. Playing under Rex Ryan, he’ll have a shot at making it three seasons in a row with 300+ carries. It may not always be pretty, but he should be a strong volume producer.

7. DeMarco Murray, PHI

Murray will not come close to the massive 449 touches he received last year. He is still the lead RB for a high-potential offense though, and is still playing behind a strong offensive line. Murray is a natural fit in Chip Kelly’s north-south running system, and the reduced touches greatly increase the chances of getting another 16-games season out of him. Even with limited touches, Murray’s stock remains high.

8. Matt Forte, CHI

Forte doesn’t expect a repeat of his record-setting 102-reception season from a year ago, but he should still be heavily involved as a receiver. Even before last year he was averaging 56.8 catches per year for his career, so don’t expect him to disappear from the passing game. His drop from 4.6 yards per carry in 2013 to 3.9 last year is somewhat concerning, but he’s in line for enough carries to overcome some inefficiency.

9. Jeremy Hill, CIN

Hill had five games last year with at least 20 carries. He ran for 100+ yards in each of those games, and went over 140 rushing yards in four of them. As long as the Bengals remain in games, Hill will be a major part of the offense. He finished last year by picking up 395 rushing yards in his final three games. If he picks up where he left off last year, he’ll be a fantasy stud.

10. C.J. Anderson, DEN

Anderson topped 80 rushing yards in six of his final eight games last year after coming out of nowhere to seize the starting job. Gary Kubiak prefers to have a go-to RB, whether it’s Justin Forsett in Baltimore last year or Arian Foster in Houston before that. Kubiak’s workhorse RB preference along with Peyton Manning being willing to throw a little less this year both bode well for Anderson.

11. Justin Forsett, BAL

It was impossible to see Forsett’s breakout 2014 campaign coming. He picked up 1266 yards on the ground after never having a season with even half of that total in his previous six NFL seasons. Marc Trestman says the Ravens will stick with a zone running scheme, which suits Forsett perfectly. He also wants Forsett even more involved in the passing game. There will be plenty of chances to prove last year was not a fluke.

12. Jonathan Stewart, CAR

The golden opportunity has finally arrived for Stewart. In his eighth NFL season, this will be the first year he does not have to share the backfield with DeAngelo Williams. Stewart played four games at the end of last year with out Williams and had two 100 yard rushing performances in that span – his first time hitting the 100 yard rushing mark in a game since 2010. Durability concerns persist (he has missed 20 games in the last three years) but if healthy he should easily get his second career 1,000 yard season.

13. Frank Gore, IND

Old reliable Frank Gore has gone over 1,100 rushing yards in five of the last six NFL seasons. Even going into his age 32 season, he still seems to have a fair amount left in the tank. Gore’s 5 total TDs from last year were the lowest he has ever had in a season in which he played at least 15 games. That was a reflection of the dysfunction the 49ers operated in last year. He should have plenty more opportunities to score in a much better offense and with no competition in the backfield.

14. Lamar Miller, MIA

Miller enters this season as the unquestioned lead back, yet there are still some minor concerns about his workload. He never received 20 carries in any game last year and has only had one game in his career with that many rushing attempts. This won’t be an issue however if Miller can maintain his 5.1 yards per carry from a year ago. He could be in line for an expanded role if he proves he can handle it without wearing down.

15. Latavius Murray, OAK

The Raiders appear ready to feature Murray in their backfield, which should excite fantasy owners. He possesses an ideal combination of size and speed, and that was on display last year when he ran for 112 yards and 2 TDs on just 4 carries against the Chiefs in Week 12. Durability is a legitimate concern here, as he has already suffered a torn ACL and a concussion in his young career. His upside is immense when on the field, and he is worth the risk.

16. Alfred Morris, WAS

Since they entered the league together, Morris has always been a far more effective RB with Robert Griffin III under center. As a result, Morris has seen steady decreases in his yardage in each of the last two seasons after an elite rookie campaign in 2012. His lack of contribution in the passing game and the presence of rookie Matt Jones limit his ceiling. If RGIII can somehow bounce back, Morris will too.

17. Chris Ivory, NYJ

The departure of Chris Johnson should mean good things for Ivory’s fantasy outlook. While he has never been a real feature back, Ivory did receive a career-high 198 rushing attempts last year and caught more passes (18) than he had in his first four NFL seasons combined. With Stevan Ridley coming off of a major knee injury and Bilal Powell best suited as a passing down back, Ivory has a good chance of exceeding 200 carries for the first time. He can be had in most fantasy leagues at a discounted price.

18. Joseph Randle, DAL

To be clear, Randle is not DeMarco Murray. He won’t come close to the massive production Murray provided for the Cowboys last year. Randle did show flashes in limited playing time which suggest he could be an interesting fantasy commodity. He is playing behind an elite offensive line and is the lead back in what should be a highly productive office. If Dallas doesn’t add another RB into the mix, Randle should easily establish himself as the head of this committee.

19. Mark Ingram, NO

Sean Payton said he wants the Saints to be able to score fewer points to win games. That would suggest an increased emphasis on the running game in New Orleans, and trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills would indicate Payton is serious. This potential change in philosophy can only benefit Ingram, who is coming off of a career year. Ingram finished last season by scoring in three consecutive games for the first time in his career.

20. Andre Ellington, ARI

Operating as a lead back for the first time, Ellington’s yards per carry plummeted from a league best 5.5 in 2013 to a dreadful 3.3 last year (5th worst in the league among qualified players). Less is more for Ellington, as fewer touches this year should keep him fresh and yield a return to his signature explosive form. His lack of goal line work puts a cap on how high his fantasy ceiling can go.

21. Ameer Abdullah, DET

At the very least, Abdullah has pulled even with Joique Bell in the Lions’ backfield pecking order. He is far more explosive than Bell, and with Bell coming off of a mildly disappointing 2014 season it will be hard for the Detroit coaching staff to keep the rookie off the field. Abdullah has the look of a big play threat and even if he is not the Week 1 starter he would be my bet to lead the Lions’ RBs in scrimmage yards this year.

22. Doug Martin, TB

Injuries and ineffectiveness caused Martin to have fewer than 1,000 rushing yards combined in 2013 and 2014. All indications however suggest that he has had his best offseason in years, and looks leaner and quicker. He’s not exactly a favorite of the coaching staff, but the Bucs don’t have a better option for a lead back. So Martin should get the majority of the carries when healthy and hopefully he’ll regain some of his 2012 form.

23. T.J. Yeldon, JAX

Fantasy owners of Yeldon may have to be patient at the beginning of the season, as he may not emerge as the leader of the backfield in Week 1. His coaches are high on him, and his understanding and ability in pass protection will earn him more playing time early. He has the potential to develop into an every down back before the season is over which makes him highly intriguing.

24. Rashad Jennings, NYG

Jennings touched the ball a lot in his first eight games with the Giants (22.5 touches per game). However, he dealt with knee and ankle injuries during the year and sputtered to a forgettable finish over the final four weeks. Jennings has the skill set to be a three-down back, but Shane Vereen’s presence will drastically cut into his passing down work. Jennings will retain the lead back job but the Giants’ backfield has morphed into much more of a committee than last year.

25. LeGarrette Blount, NE

There may not be a fantasy player who will carry more week-to-week value than Blount. The Patriots are very opponent-specific, when it comes to game plans. When they feel like they can punish the other team on the ground, Blount will have high value. When they decide to exploit the other team’s secondary, Blount’s value will fall sharply. Fantasy owners should expect a roller coaster ride, but Blount’s work on early downs and in goal line situations make him a decent fantasy asset.

26. Carlos Hyde, SF

Frank Gore’s departure means Hyde will certainly get more work than the 5.9 carries per game he received last year. Hyde should claim the majority of the early down work. The addition of Reggie Bush and the return of Kendall Hunter limit his fantasy potential. Hyde will look to build off his season best 55 rushing yards he picked up in the last game of his 2014 rookie season.

27. Arian Foster, HOU

Foster will be a complete roll of the dice for fantasy owners this year, but could pay major dividends if all goes well. His groin surgery is expected to keep him out for roughly half of the season, although there is huge variation in his timetable to return. Foster received 20+ carries in nine of the thirteen games he appeared in last year, so we know the Texans will ride him when he’s available. But with this groin surgery being the latest in a litany of soft tissue injuries for him, Foster just simply isn’t reliable.

Note: Arian Foster moved from #41 to #27 as of 9/4 due to more optimistic timetable for his return from groin surgery.

28. Devonta Freeman, ATL

Going back to college, we’ve never really seen Freeman featured in anyone’s backfield. So even though he seems to have the inside track for starting duties in the Falcons’ backfield, it’s tough to envision him getting a large workload. He has flashed good hands in the passing game which helps his case. But he will have to improve on last year’s 3.8 yards per carry to have any real consistent fantasy value.

29. C.J. Spiller, NO

In his three years playing with Drew Brees, Darren Sproles caught 232 passes – averaging 5.3 catches per game. Spiller projects to be the passing down back in the Saints’ offense, and he has a quarterback and a coach who enjoy getting the RBs involved in the passing game. He likely won’t  quite match the receiving numbers Sproles put up in New Orleans, but this was a great spot for him to land in. His recovery from recent arthroscopic knee surgery is worth monitoring.

30. Melvin Gordon III, SD

The Chargers have high hopes for Gordon long-term, but he projects as a RB who might struggle early on with his transition to the NFL. Coaches have noticed that he can be indecisive in the backfield, which may be OK in the Big Ten but not so much in the pros. He has had trouble in pass protection in camp and is sharing the backfield with a third down ace in Danny Woodhead. He can be a special runner but expectations should be tempered in year one.

31. Tre Mason, STL

Last year, Mason went from not playing in the first four games to getting 17+ touches in seven out of of the final twelve games. With highly touted Todd Gurley II still recovering from an ACL tear, the Rams’ backfield will belong to Mason to start the season. Gurley’s eventual return hurts Mason’s overall fantasy value, but Mason will be a solid player to own early on.

32. Isaiah Crowell, CLE

Crowell was part of a committee last year with Terrence West and (at least for a while) Ben Tate, but he scored twice as many rushing TDs (8) as either of the other RBs. The coaching staff’s preference for Crowell inside of the red zone gives him the upper hand in this year’s committee in Cleveland. Ball security has been a concern for him, but if he holds onto the ball he should be the #1 RB for the Browns by a slight margin.

33. Alfred Blue, HOU

Blue was last in the NFL last year in yards per carry for any player who ran the ball at least 100 times. While he should improve on his dismal 3.1 yards per rush from his rookie season, he is doubtful to be an efficient back. The good news here is the Texans will commit to the run no matter who is in the backfield. With Arian Foster out indefinitely, Blue will be a high-volume RB for at least the first month or two of the season.

34. Shane Vereen, NYG 

As he was in New England, Vereen figures to have a larger impact in the passing game than in the running game. Ben McAdoo has suggested that Vereen is not just a third-down RB in his eyes, which suggests he could be on the field with Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams split out wide. Expect Vereen to have more receiving yards than rushing as he’s done in each of the last two seasons.

35. Joique Bell, DET

Bell did run the ball more effectively in the second half of last season than the first, averaging 4.4 yards per carry over his final eight games compared to 3.2 per carry over his first seven. Disappointingly, he didn’t have any 100 yard rushing games (only hitting 90 rushing yards once) and failed to catch 50 passes for the first time since 2011. Ameer Abdullah seems to be rapidly ascending meaning Bell is unlikely to see the 257 touches he got a year ago.

36. Bishop Sankey, TEN

It’s concerning that the first RB taken in the 2014 NFL draft couldn’t distinguish himself from a crowd of uninspiring backs last year. The Titans didn’t invest heavily in the RB position this offseason, but did bring in some fresh blood in David Cobb and Antonio Andrews. The coaches and front office have to be hoping Sankey establishes himself as the lead back this year, and therefore he’ll be given every opportunity. However, there haven’t been any in-game signs to suggest Sankey will make that jump.

37. Giovani Bernard, CIN

Due in large part to the emergence of Jeremy Hill, Bernard saw fewer than 10 carries in three of the Bengals’ final four games last year. He did manage 18 receptions over that same time span. That usage rate is likely a good barometer for what to expect in 2015. Bernard is a big play threat, so he can retain some value as a backup RB if he can get 12-14 touches per game.

38. Todd Gurley II, STL

Still on the mend after finishing his college career with a torn ACL, Gurley is expected to miss at least the first couple of games of the season. It’s anyone’s guess as to when he will make his NFL debut, but expect him to be eased into the mix as the Rams take a cautious approach with their top draft pick. Gurley will be an interesting player to stash for the second half of the season, but do not expect early fantasy dividends.

39. Danny Woodhead, SD

All reports about Woodhead’s recovery from last year’s nasty leg injury have been very positive and he should be good to go. Despite Melvin Gordon III joining the backfield, Woodhead should see a significant amount of snaps. Operating in a similar role in 2013 with the Chargers, Woodhead got 11.4 touches per game. His 76 receptions and 6 receiving TDs were both 2nd among RBs in 2013.

40. Ryan Mathews, PHI

The Eagles will not run DeMarco Murray into the ground the way the Cowboys did. In an effort to keep Murray fresh and available, expect Mathews to manage at least 10-12 carries even in a backup role. Because the Eagles run a fast-paced offense and like to run the ball, Mathews (though fairly injury-prone in his own right) is one of the top handcuffs in all of fantasy.

41. Tevin Coleman, ATL

Coleman only has the unproven Devonta Freeman in front of him, so there should be playing time available for him. He was highly productive in his final year of college and has the look of a constant home run threat. Toe surgery and a hamstring injury in the offseason have brought up durability concerns, so there may be a relatively low cap for his workload.

42. Duke Johnson Jr., CLE

The advantage Johnson has is that the coaching staff in Cleveland has already spent a year having their periodic frustrations with Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. Working with a clean slate, Johnson is the favorite to be the passing down back and could carve out an even more prominent role. A training camp hamstring injury doesn’t help his early season fantasy stock.

43. Reggie Bush, SF

Nagging injuries and reduced effectiveness caused Bush to see his rushing total drop 709 yards from 2013 to 2014 in just three fewer games. Joining a backfield featuring Carlos Hyde, Bush figures to have a marginal role in the 49ers’ ground game. Bush has caught at least 40 passes in seven of his nine NFL seasons, and his presence in the passing game remains key to his fantasy value.

44. Darren McFadden, DAL

For the first time in his seven years in the league, McFadden played in all sixteen games in 2014. It took a restricted workload (less than 10 carries per game) for him to finally make it through a whole season. He has already dealt with hamstring injuries in training camp, reminding fantasy owners of his history with soft tissue injuries. Moving from Oakland to Dallas brightens his fantasy outlook, but not by a lot.

45. Matt Jones, WAS

Jones announced his presence in a big way with an impressive preseason, and could be in line for a decent amount of regular season work right away. Alfred Morris is a non-factor in the passing games (37 receptions in 48 career games), so there is an immediate path to some playing time for Jones. Given that Morris is in the final year of his rookie deal, and Jones is the pick of the new regime in Washington, Jones could force a bit of a committee situation in the Redskins’ backfield.

Note: Matt Jones replaced David Cobb at #45 due to Cobb going on short-term IR with a calf injury.

46. James White, NE

Over his last 24 games with the Patriots, Shane Vereen averaged 4.1 receptions per game for 36.4 yards while catching 6 TD passes over that span. White is the favorite to take the old Vereen role in the offense, which means his value will be more as a receiver than a runner. He is not as athletic as the departed Vereen, so the numbers mentioned earlier probably represent his absolute ceiling.

47. Denard Robinson, JAX

Surprisingly, Robinson had a three-game stretch from Week 7 to Week 9 last year in which he averaged 19 carries for 109.7 yards. He has proven he can be an effective RB in limited work, and should receive a handful of touches each game as the change of pace back to T.J. Yeldon. Robinson has also proven he can fill in admirably as a short-term lead back if the Jaguars need him to.

48. Chris Johnson, ARI

After spending all summer toiling in free agency, Johnson finally found a landing spot with the Cardinals. While his role in Arizona is largely undefined at this point, he wouldn’t have been brought on board if Bruce Arians was fully comfortable with his backfield. Andre Ellington showed last year he’s not a true “bell cow” RB, so there should be leftover snaps waiting for Johnson assuming he beats out David Johnson for #2 duties.

49. Cameron Artis-Payne, CAR

Despite a productive final year of college in the SEC, Artis-Payne doesn’t stand out as a top end athlete. He is not the most exciting prospect, but he is the favorite for the top backup spot behind Jonathan Stewart. Given Stewart’s propensity for getting nicked up, there is a decent chance Artis-Payne makes at least a start or two this year.

50. DeAngelo Williams, PIT

Williams cracks the top 50 simply because we know he will get two starts at the beginning of the year while Le’Veon Bell serves a suspension. At 32 years old and coming off of the worst season of his career, Williams will only have minimal value in deep leagues as a handcuff once Bell makes his season debut.

 

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings

For X’s Fantasy RB rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/xs-2015-fantasy-football-running-back-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy WR rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/xs-2015-fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings/

For X’s Fantasy TE rankings, click here: https://xmarksthesport.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/xs-2015-fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings/

X’s 2015 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings (8/11/15 – updated 8/31):

1. Andrew Luck, IND

Luck was the only QB to hit 40 touchdown passes last year. Replacing Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks with the steady Andre Johnson and the speedy rookie Phillip Dorsett can only help. Luck can be the #1 fantasy QB if he cuts down on his 22 turnovers from a year ago.

Update: Andrew Luck moved from #2 to #1 as of 8/30 due to Jordy Nelson injury.

2. Aaron Rodgers, GB

Not much justification needed here, but I’ll still give you a little bit. Over his last 64 games, Rodgers has thrown 155 touchdown passes and just 27 interceptions. That’s good for a 5.7 to 1 TD to INT ratio. I don’t know about you, but those numbers work pretty well for me.

Update: Aaron Rodgers moved from #1 to #2 as of 8/30 due to Jordy Nelson injury.

3. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT

Last year, Roethlisberger set career highs in completions, attempts, completion percentage, and passing yards while tying a career high in TD passes. The Steelers have morphed into an offensive team and that should continue into 2015. With Le’Veon Bell suspended for the first two games, Big Ben could come out of the blocks fast this year.

4. Russell Wilson, SEA

Wilson finished last year tied for 16th in the league in rushing yards with breakout fantasy RB C.J. Anderson. He is by far the league’s best dual threat QB, running for 208 more yards than any other signal caller. Jimmy Graham gives Wilson the most imposing target he’s ever had (especially for red zone purposes), so he should continue to ascend.

5. Peyton Manning, DEN

Reports of Peyton Manning’s demise are premature and greatly exaggerated. Even in a “down” season, Manning was 4th in passing yards and 2nd in passing touchdowns. There will be a larger emphasis on the run this year, but now that his quad has healed Manning should still post strong numbers.

6. Tom Brady, NE

In his first four games of 2014, Brady threw 4 total TDs while failing to hit 160 passing yards twice. In the next ten games, Rob Gronkowski regained his form which led to 28 TD passes and five 300+ yard games from Brady. When Gronk is healthy, Brady is still one of the best fantasy options at QB. Note: I do not believe Brady will miss any games due to suspension.

7. Drew Brees, NO

Brees led the league in passing attempts last year (31 more than any other QB), but don’t expect that to happen again in 2015. The Saints traded away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills – who combined for 148 receptions, 1,820 yards, and 13 TD – for a power blocking center and a linebacker. They are transitioning to more of a “grind it out” mentality which should cause a minor dip in Brees’ typical production.

8. Eli Manning, NYG

Through the first seven games of last year, Manning averaged a pedestrian 224.7 passing yards per game. However, over his last nine that average shot up to 315.2 yards per game. If Manning can get a full year with the electric Odell Beckham Jr. and a reasonably healthy Victor Cruz, we could see more of the superb production he had during the second half of last year.

9. Tony Romo, DAL

The Cowboys don’t have the luxury of riding DeMarco Murray the way they did a season ago, which means more responsibility will fall on Tony Romo’s shoulders. Last year, Romo was 4th in the league in TD passes despite having fewer attempts than Kyle Orton and Brian Hoyer. More opportunities should make for more fantasy production.

10. Cam Newton, CAR

Kelvin Benjamin has a year under his belt now, and Devin Funchess is probably already better than any #2 WR the Panthers had last year. Those factors should lead to improved passing numbers for Newton this year. His legs will continue to make him a nice fantasy commodity. Newton has led Carolina in rushing TDs in each of his four NFL seasons.

11. Ryan Tannehill, MIA

Flying largely under the radar, Tannehill finished last year 11th in passing yards, tied for 12th in TD passes, 6th in completion percentage (min. 200 pass attempts), and 5th among QBs in rushing yards. He came quite a long way after nearly being benched (reportedly) after his first three starts. With improved weapons (Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Jordan Cameron), the dual-threat QB has high fantasy upside.

12. Matt Ryan, ATL

Ryan was 2nd in the league in pass attempts last year, and although the attempts may come down Ryan should still provide solid fantasy production. With nothing but unproven commodities in the backfield, more responsibility could end up falling on Ryan’s shoulders. Keep in mind new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did get career years out of Matt Schaub (2009) and Robert Griffin III (2012).

13. Matthew Stafford, DET

Stafford was the only QB last year to attempt 600 passes, but fall short of both 4,400 yards and 28 TD passes. However, fantasy football is largely about opportunity and there is no reason to believe Stafford won’t close in on 600 more pass attempts this year. Having a healthy Megatron at his disposal and a year of experience in Joe Lombardi’s offense should benefit Stafford.

14. Carson Palmer, ARI

If you project Palmer’s per game averages from last year over a 16-game schedule, you would get 4,336 passing yards, 29 TD passes, and 8 interceptions. If he can stay on the field every week, he has top 10 fantasy potential in Bruce Arians’ aggressive vertical-based passing scheme. For now, there have been no reports of any shoulder or knee issues this summer, which is a good sign.

15. Philip Rivers, SD

Antonio Gates and Eddie Royal combined to catch 19 of Philip Rivers’ 31 TD passes a year ago. Neither of those targets will be available to start the season as Royal is now in Chicago and Gates is set to serve a 4-game suspension. Rivers threw 15 interceptions in his final nine games last year. He has to cut that turnover rate down before his stock can rise.

16. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN

Bridgewater showed tremendous growth and potential over his rookie season, highlighted by completing 72.1% of his pass attempts over his final five games. The return of Adrian Peterson should help his progression. The addition of Mike Wallace, continued growth of Charles Johnson, and the presence of a healthy Kyle Rudolph (maybe) all bode well for the rapidly ascending Bridgewater.

17. Sam Bradford, PHI

Bradford has thrown 27 TD passes and 10 interceptions in his last 15 starts, an impressive ratio. Of course the problem is he hasn’t started a regular season game since October 20, 2013. Bradford has talent, and in a very quarterback-friendly system he can thrive. Bradford can easily be a top 10-12 QB (or better) in Chip Kelly’s offense if his body allows him, but it’s a major risk to take.

18. Colin Kaepernick, SF

The new-look (leftover) 49ers coaching staff is rumored to have a desire to see Kaepernick run the ball more frequently. If true, this could be a big boon to his fantasy value. Kaepernick set career highs in both passing attempts and rushing attempts last year, finishing 2nd among QBs with 639 rushing yards. More running opportunities and a legitimate deep threat in Torrey Smith make Kaepernick a high-upside QB2.

19. Jay Cutler, CHI

The good news for Cutler is last year his 3812 passing yards, 66.0 completion percentage, and 28 TD passes were all his best totals since being traded to the Bears. The bad news is his 24 turnovers were his most since 2009, and they often came in bunches. Losing Brandon Marshall and his 31 TDs over the last three years doesn’t help. The mercurial Cutler remains a weekly high-ceiling, very low floor option.

20. Joe Flacco, BAL

Even though Torrey Smith struggled with drops last year, his presence will be missed in Baltimore. Flacco loves slinging the ball deep, and Smith has led the Ravens in yards per catch (min. 10 catches) in each season since being drafted in 2011. Breshad Perriman was brought in to replace Smith as the speedster of the offense, but he is raw. Flacco may go through some growing pains with some of his inexperienced targets this year.

21. Jameis Winston, TB

Winston has the luxury of taking over an offense with three 6’5” targets, including an absolute beast in the making in Mike Evans. He took a lot of criticism for throwing too many picks in his final year at Florida State, but Winston’s willingness to throw into tight windows should reward fantasy owners with big plays. Winston showed plenty of comfort with throwing to big targets in college, hitting Kelvin Benjamin for 15 TDs in 2013.

22. Derek Carr, OAK

Carr did an excellent job with protecting the football as a rookie, but many times he was painfully overcautious. This approach led to him having the lowest yards per pass attempt (5.46) the NFL has seen from a starter since Blaine Gabbert in 2011. If Amari Cooper lives up to the hype and Michael Crabtree (Achilles) and Rod Streater (foot) return to pre-injury form, Carr should be much more willing to let it rip this season.

23. Andy Dalton, CIN

In year one with Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator, the Bengals went from 12th in the league in run percentage up to 5th. The emphasis in the run game resulted in career lows for Andy Dalton in pass attempts (482) and TD passes (19). Getting 16 games out of A.J. Green would help improve Dalton’s production, but there’s no reason to expect a drastic change in offensive philosophy from Cincinnati in 2015.

24. Marcus Mariota, TEN

The Titans seem to have no intention whatsoever to ease Mariota in. Expect Mariota to have the ball in his hands a lot by design, and maybe even more than the coaches plan for if they are trailing as often as they did last year. If he is given the freedom to take advantage of his skills as a runner, the fantasy ceiling will be a lot higher for him. The lack of a true go-to receiver and a questionable offensive line are limiting factors.

25. Alex Smith, KC

To give Smith credit, he has posted a touchdown to interception ratio of better than 3 to 1 in three of the last four years. The master of the checkdown won’t often hurt the Chiefs, but he also won’t often help his fantasy owners. Smith infamously failed to throw a single TD to a WR last year, a direct reflection of his complete unwillingness to challenge defenses. For this reason, his fantasy ceiling remains pretty low.

26. Kirk Cousins, WAS

Cousins threw for 250+ yards in each of his first five appearances last year, and threw multiple TD passes in four of those five games. Those numbers indicate there is a sliver of upside with Cousins for as long as he is the starter. Bear in mind however, Cousins had 11 turnovers in just six games and was ultimately benched for the remainder of the season after a poor showing against a subpar Titans defense. A lack of job security amidst the never ceasing drama in Washington could make Cousins a short-term option only.

Update: Kirk Cousins moved from #39 to #26 as of 8/31 after being confirmed as Washington’s Week 1 starter.

27. Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ

Geno Smith seems to have a firmer grip on the starting job than Robert Griffin III or Matt Cassel or else Fitzpatrick would be ranked a little higher. In three seasons under Chan Gailey in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick averaged over 3,400 passing yards and almost 24 TD passes per season. If the coaching staff decides to turn to the veteran at any point, he should do reasonably well in a familiar offense and with a good WR duo.

Update: Ryan Fitzpatrick moved from #36 to #27 (as of 8/17) as a result of the Geno Smith injury.

28. Nick Foles, STL

Foles goes from the #1 team in the NFL in offensive plays per game last year to the team that ranked 30th in offensive plays. Taking Tre Mason and Todd Gurley II in back-to-back drafts indicates Jeff Fisher won’t shy away from a deliberate pace any time soon, and he’ll rely on a run game and defense to try to win games. Foles is an upgrade over last year’s Davis/Hill duo, but he’ll be hurt by playing in a less aggressive passing offense.

29. Tyrod Taylor, BUF

It didn’t take long for Matt Cassel to relinquish his starting job to a young QB last year. History could repeat itself if Cassel is unable to make the occasional big play to keep defenses honest. Taylor has only attempted 35 passes in the NFL, and has never thrown a TD in four NFL seasons. Complete ineptitude from the other Bills QBs gives Taylor a legitimate chance to start. He projects as a dual threat QB which is always a fantasy-friendly attribute.

Update: Tyrod Taylor moved from #33 to #29 as of 8/31 due to winning the Bills’ starting job.

30. Blake Bortles, JAX

Bortles’ passing actually regressed over his rookie season. He averaged 240.1 passing yards in his first eight games but dropped all the way down to a meager 164.5 passing yards per game over his last six starts. Bortles’ significant drop off directly coincided with Allen Robinson’s season-ending injury, so a healthy Robinson could help restore Bortles’ game. He did pick up 50+ rushing yards in three of his last five games. If he keeps that up, he’s worth monitoring.

31. Brian Hoyer, HOU

Hoyer was feast or famine over his final seven games last year – throwing for over 300 yards three times and for under 200 yards four times. He ended the season on a down note, with 1 TD pass and 7 interceptions over his last four games. Hoyer’s willingness to take chances will result in sporadic big plays, but he is a streaky (at times downright bad) passer playing in a heavily run-oriented offense.

32. Josh McCown, CLE

In 2013, McCown had a tremendous run with the Bears, looking like a top level quarterback in what was an ideal situation for him. But in 2014, Josh McCown went back to being Josh McCown. The underwhelming journeyman failed to take advantage of a strong WR duo in Tampa. Now he finds himself in a situation where his most imposing WR might be former QB Terrelle Pryor. Don’t expect a flashback to 2013 any time soon.

33. Mark Sanchez, PHI

Sanchez is a clear cut backup to Sam Bradford at this point. However, he has the highest ceiling of any backup in the league thanks to Chip Kelly’s system. Sanchez completed 64.1% of his passes last year, a career high by a wide margin. He finished ranked in the top 10 in the league in both yards per attempt and yards per game (min. 220 attempts). If Bradford goes down (again) Sanchez instantly becomes a quality QB2.

34. Matt Cassel, BUF

In his last 30 games (spanning over four years), Cassel only has two 300+ yard passing game. Over that span, he has thrown more interceptions (34) than touchdowns (30). Having intriguing weapons at his disposal gives him a slight bump in fantasy value. However, Cassel’s inability to produce at a high level combined with Rex Ryan’s infamous “ground and pound” approach make him unlikely to be relevant in fantasy.

Update: Matt Cassel moved from #31 to #34 as of 8/31 after Tyrod Taylor won the starting job over him.

35. Robert Griffin III, WAS

The pieces are in place here. There is above average talent at the skill positions, the offensive line should be improved, and he has a coach who did manage to get 50 TD passes out of the less talented Andy Dalton between 2012 and 2013. Injuries and the constant threat of being benched have torpedoed Griffin’s fantasy stock. However, if he’s on the field he’s still a threat to at least post moderate fantasy production.

Update: Robert Griffin III moved from #28 to #35 as of 8/31 after being benched prior to the start of the regular season.

36. Geno Smith, NYJ

Smith finished last season on a high note, becoming the only player last year to have a game with a perfect passer rating in Week 17. Smith did show some improvement from year one to year two, and the duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker is a nice 1-2 punch. Chan Gailey’s system should be a plus for him as well. Smith can greatly exceed this ranking if he avoids the bench, but admittedly that’s a big if.

Update: Geno Smith moved from #27 to #36 (as of 8/17) due to fractured jaw and losing starting job.

37. Ryan Mallett, HOU

On the field, Mallett has done very little to prove he can be a starter in the NFL. Mallett does have the physical look of an NFL quarterback however, and that alone could buy him another opportunity for playing time. Hoyer is not a long-term answer at the position, so if the Texans aren’t vying for a playoff spot it could be audition time for Mallett again. He’s not that good, but there is a realistic path to playing time.

38. Johnny Manziel, CLE 

There is a strong chance that Josh McCown gets benched at some point during the season. Despite Manziel’s ineffective passing in spot duty last year, the Browns’ front office is not going to throw in the towel on him after just 35 pass attempts and 2 starts. From the outside looking in, Manziel appears to have taken this offseason much more seriously than last year’s. If nothing else, he should be more prepared to play this time around.

39. Colt McCoy, WAS

It’s no secret Jay Gruden is not exactly a fan of Robert Griffin III. Factor in Griffin’s injury history on top of that and it’s fairly likely another QB will start games for the Redskins at some point next year. Kirk Cousins’ propensity for bad interceptions could leave McCoy as the man who gets a chance if Griffin falters or goes down. McCoy is unspectacular, but he did complete 71.1% of his passes last year in limited duty and Washington does have good run after catch receivers.

Update: Colt McCoy moved from #33 to #39 as of 8/30 due to apparently falling to third on Washington’s depth chart.

2015 NFL Mock Draft

Round 1

1. Tampa Bay – Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State    6’4’’   231
Mike Glennon, Josh McCown, and Josh Freeman have all started games for the Buccaneers over the past two seasons. Each struggled with consistency and Tampa Bay finished in the bottom three in completion percentage each year as a result. The Bucs spent their entire 2014 draft on offense, but still have to stabilize the most important piece of the offense. Winston comes in as a NFL-ready prospect in both physical stature and understanding of the game. He is willing to take chances, which could work in his favor here given the size of Tampa Bay’s receivers.

2. Tennessee – Leonard Williams, DT/DE, Southern California    6’5’’   302
The Titans ranked 31st in run defense last year, and the 38 rushing touchdowns they’ve given up since the start of the 2013 season are 3 more than any other defense has allowed. Jurrell Casey has been their only impact defensive linemen, and he is much better at pass rushing than holding his own at the point of attack. Tennessee has to get stouter up front if they’re going to slow down opponents’ ground game. Williams is a versatile lineman who boasts a ton of strength. He can set the edge on early downs and be an interior pass rusher when the situation dictates.

3. Jacksonville – Vic Beasley, LB/DE, Clemson    6’3’’   246
Under Gus Bradley, the Jaguars’ pass rush has improved dramatically. In 2012, the year prior to Bradley’s arrival, they had a league-low 20 sacks. That total jumped to 31 sacks in Bradley’s first season, then rose to 45 sacks last year. Bradley hasn’t had a chance to draft a defensive player in the 1st round since he became head coach but that could change as he works to continue to improve the pass rush. Beasley is explosive on the edge and after bulking up may be able to play a LEO/linebacker combo role like Bruce Irvin did in a similar style of defense in Seattle.

4. Oakland – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia    6’3’’   215
The last time a Raiders player reached 1,000 receiving yards in a season, it was Randy Moss in 2005. Oakland has sorely lacked a true number one target in the passing game for essentially a decade. Andre Holmes led the team in receiving yards last year despite having seven games with 2 receptions or less. The Raiders believe they finally found their franchise quarterback in Derek Carr last year, now they need to provide him with a go to weapon. White’s combination of size, speed and physicality make him an intriguing option to plug in as a primary receiver.

5. Washington – Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Florida    6’3’’   261
Ryan Kerrigan has 38 career sacks since he was drafted by the Redskins in 2011. That total is 17.5 more than the nearest teammate over that time span Brian Orakpo, and he’s no longer with the team. Washington did spend last year’s top pick on converted outside linebacker Trent Murphy and newcomer Jason Hatcher had moments last season, but as this roster is currently constructed their pass rush is still too dependent on Kerrigan. Fowler would provide another strong pass rush threat to take pressure off of Kerrigan and has plenty of range to play in space.

6. N.Y. Jets – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama    6’1’’   211
The trades for Brandon Marshall and Ryan Fitzpatrick along with the hiring of Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator suggest we’ll see a much different offensive approach from the Jets this year. Fitzpatrick has had three years with 3000+ passing yards and 20+ pass TDs, all with Gailey as his coach. Even with Marshall and Eric Decker firmly entrenched as the starters on the outside, there will be plenty of opportunities for a 3rd receiver in this spread offense. Cooper’s quickness, advanced route running, and run after catch ability make him an optimal potential slot receiver.

7. Chicago – Danny Shelton, DT, Washington    6’2’’   339
During his days in San Francisco, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was accustomed to having a lot of bodies to deploy along the three-man front of his defense. The Bears don’t have much depth along the defensive line due to converting some linemen to outside linebackers and the loss of Stephen Paea in free agency. Shelton would add some bulk up front, while his surprising agility could help replace some of the interior pass rush Paea provided. He does wear down after a high volume of snaps, so Chicago would need to improve its depth to help keep him fresh.

8. Atlanta – Randy Gregory, LB/DE, Nebraska    6’5’’   235
No Falcons player reached 5 sacks last year, and Kroy Biermann was the only one to reach 3 sacks. 33-year-old Osi Umenyiora pretty much had the worst overall season of his career, yet he still managed to finish 2nd on the team in sacks. The LEO designated pass rusher position is a well-known staple in new head coach Dan Quinn’s defense, but there is no readily apparent candidate to fill it in Atlanta at the moment. Gregory brings more speed and pass rush ability to that position than anyone else on the roster can offer. His lean frame would not be an issue in this role.

9. N.Y. Giants – Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa    6’5’’   319
There promises to be at least some degree of reshuffling of the Giants’ offensive line prior to next season. Last year’s starting center J.D. Walton is gone, and Weston Richburg will return to his natural center position after a rocky year at guard. John Jerry was brought back, but ideally he would fill more of a utility role off of the bench. The return of Geoff Schwartz from injury should help, but New York still appears to be short up front. Scherff would help improve a unit that particularly struggled in run blocking. He could potentially kick outside if needed.

10. St. Louis – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford    6’7’’   313
Jake Long had another season cut short by injury last year, and won’t be returning to the Rams. Neither will Scott Wells, who was largely ineffective during his time in St. Louis. Davin Joseph was brought in to be a stop gap solution, but that didn’t go well either. It’s been a work in progress for the Rams to rebuild their offensive line. Peat possesses an intriguing blend of size and mobility and could take over the left tackle spot for St. Louis right away. His presence would allow for Greg Robinson to fill one of the other holes on the right side of the offensive line.

11. Minnesota – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State    6’0’’   186
Over the last four seasons Aaron Rodgers has a ridiculous 139 to 25 touchdown to interception ratio. During that same span, Matthew Stafford has averaged 4,728 passing yards per season. The Vikings’ corners were fairly solid last year, but with quarterbacks this prolific in their division they can’t have too much help at cornerback. Ideally Captain Munnerlyn would play solely in the slot leaving Minnesota short on outside corners. Waynes is physical and aggressive like coach Mike Zimmer likes, and would be eased in while he learns to adjust to NFL coverage rules.

12. Cleveland – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville    6’3’’   209
While it’s not entirely on them and poor to mediocre quarterback play has been a factor, the Browns’ top three receivers (Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, and Andrew Hawkins) have combined for just 21 receiving touchdowns over the last three seasons. Josh Gordon will have served 27 games’ worth of suspensions over the last two years by the time next season ends, and with his future in question Cleveland needs a reliable #1 target in the passing game. Parker has shown the ability to make explosive plays, while his size and leaping ability are useful in the red zone.

13. New Orleans – Alvin “Bud” Dupree, LB/DE, Kentucky    6’4’’   269
Sean Payton has been quoted as saying he wants to “reduce the amount of points you may need to score to win a game”. The Saints’ offseason moves reflect this train of thought. They’ve added reinforcements on the offensive line (Max Unger) and in the backfield (C.J. Spiller) to emphasize the run game while trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. While New Orleans has added to the defense, they haven’t yet bolstered their pass rush. Dupree’s high end athleticism allows for him to be comfortable in space while offering more pass rush upside than Parys Haralson.

14. Miami – Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida    6’2’’   212
Ryan Tannehill ranked 31st out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks in yards per completion last year. Jarvis Landry had a strong rookie season highlighted by his team-high 84 receptions, but his 9.0 yards per catch ranked 88th out of 89 qualified wide receivers. The additions of Kenny Stills (career average of 16.5 yards per catch) and Jordan Cameron (17.7 yards per catch last year) suggest the Dolphins want to add much more big play potential to the passing game. Perriman has tantalizing physical tools and while inconsistent, he has flashed plenty of explosive playmaking ability.

15. San Francisco – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma    6’5’’   237
Anquan Boldin is coming off of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons for the first time since 2008-2009, but he will be entering his age 35 season and can’t be the #1 guy forever. Newly signed Torrey Smith is a big-play threat, but doesn’t profile as a full-time #1 target in a passing offense. The 49ers drafted replacements for guys like Frank Gore and Mike Iupati a year early, and may go that route again. Green-Beckham has all of the physical tools to be a top-flight NFL receiver in time. He’s had significant off-the-field troubles, but San Francisco takes plenty of these risks.

16. Houston – Shane Ray, DE/LB, Missouri    6’3’’   245
J.J. Watt has established himself as the dominant defensive force in the NFL. His 20.5 sacks last year were 3 more than the rest of the team had combined. Jadeveon Clowney was supposed to help ease the load, but had an injury plagued rookie season and is still looking for his first career sack. Clowney has had microfracture knee surgery and is a question mark moving forward. Brooks Reed was also lost in free agency, leaving an open linebacker spot. Ray is a speed rusher who would benefit from Watt’s presence and being an edge rush specialist on passing downs.

17. San Diego – Todd Gurley II, RB, Georgia    6’1’’   222
Branden Oliver burst onto the NFL scene last year with consecutive 100 yard performances in Week 5 and 6, but his 3.2 yards per carry over the remainder of the season suggests he’s best suited more a complementary back role. The same holds true for Danny Woodhead, and Donald Brown is coming off of a very disappointing season. The Chargers could use a boost to a run game that ended last year in the bottom three in rushing yards and TDs. Gurley is coming off of an ACL tear, but has shown the power and explosiveness to be a dominant lead back when healthy.

18. Kansas City – La’el Collins, OT, Louisiana State    6’4’’   305
Donald Stephenson started last season off on the wrong foot with a four-game suspension. Even after being reinstated, he never regained his starting spot in the lineup despite his spot being filled by journeyman Ryan Harris. This can’t be viewed as a good sign. Jeff Allen was actually the first replacement for Stephenson, but he suffered a season-ending elbow injury and the Chiefs would prefer to keep him inside. Collins excels in pass protection and could immediately start at right tackle. His potential to fill multiple OL spots as needed adds to his high appeal.

19. Cleveland – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon    6’4’’   222
Johnny Manziel only has two professional starts and 35 career pass attempts to his credit, so it’s way too early to give up on him for on-field performance. That said, the intangibles and the much maligned off-field activities of Manziel are what put the Browns in the extremely rare position of having to turn the page on such a young prospect. Outside of his magical run in 2013, Josh McCown has 10 more career picks than TD passes, so he’s a short-term answer. Mariota typically makes smart decisions with the football, and comes with no character issues whatsoever.

20. Philadelphia – Nelson Agholor, WR, Southern California    6’0’’   198
For the second straight year, the Eagles have lost a wide receiver coming off of an 80+ reception and 1,300+ yard season. First it was DeSean Jackson being sent away after the 2013 season and this offseason it was Jeremy Maclin’s turn to move on. New addition Miles Austin is the only Eagles wideout who has ever reached 1,000 yards in a season, and he hasn’t done that since 2010. Agholor does well on intermediate routes, and his run after catch skills are perfect for this uptempo office. He could also fill in at punt returner if Darren Sproles is ever unavailable.

21. Cincinnati – Malcom Brown, DT, Texas    6’2’’   319
Domata Peko is a coaches’ favorite in Cincinnati, but at times he has been ineffective at holding up at the point of attack. Considering his inconsistency at the nose and his part time role as a goal-line and short yardage fullback, perhaps Peko would benefit from reduced snaps. The Bengals run defense declined some last season, and the 16 rushing TDs they allowed were the most by the team since 2005. Brown is a versatile space-eater who does his best work against the run. His disruptive presence could help Geno Atkins in his quest to get back to pre-injury form.

22. Pittsburgh – Landon Collins, SS, Alabama    6’0’’   228
Troy Polamalu’s illustrious career in the Steel City looks to be winding down. Polamalu came up short of the 70 tackle mark last season for the fifth time in the last six years, after recording over 70 tackles in four of the previous five years. Polamalu also failed to get a sack or an interception for just the second time in his 12-year career – the first time since 2007 that has happened. The Steelers won’t find another Polamalu, but they need another impact safety. Collins is a forceful hitter like Polamalu, while improving Pittsburgh’s defensive range at the safety position.

23. Detroit – Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State    6’2’’   293
The defensive line has been prioritized by the Lions in recent years; as the team has spent a 1st round pick on defensive linemen in three of the last five drafts. Two of those defensive linemen selected, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, were lost in free agency leaving a huge void in the middle of Detroit’s defensive front. The Lions like having an inside pass rush, and Haloti Ngata’s 3.5 sacks over the last two years suggest it won’t be coming from him. Bennett is a gap-shooting tackle who would benefit from playing next to a wide-bodied space eater like Ngata.

24. Arizona – Melvin Gordon III, RB, Wisconsin    6’1’’   215
Andre Ellington’s first season as a lead back did not go well. He finished last year 38th out of 41 qualifying running backs in yards per carry. This was after leading the league in yards per carry as a change of pace back in 2013. Between the lack of production and injuries from last season, it is clear that Ellington is by far more effective as a complementary back, and needs someone else to take the majority of the carries. Gordon proved last season that workload is not an issue for him. His short-area speed allows him to pick up yardage in a hurry when he finds holes.

25. Carolina – Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (FL)    6’6’’   329
Two undrafted players, Byron Bell and Nate Chandler, opened up the season as the Panthers’ starters at offensive tackle. To the surprise of no one, both struggled. Even with the retirement of Jordan Gross last year, this was an inexcusable duo to begin the season with. Newcomers Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin have served as human turnstiles over the last two years and both will be on their third team in the last three seasons. Flowers does come with some technical flaws, but he moves surprisingly well for his size and would upgrade a position of major need.

26. Baltimore – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest    6’0’’   188
Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, and Asa Jackson all missed time with injuries last year. As they shuffled in and out of the lineup, the lack at depth or cornerback was exposed as ultimately the Ravens were forced to bring Rashaan Melvin off of Miami’s practice squad. Webb and Jackson were question marks even when healthy enough to play, and Melvin was exploited in Baltimore’s playoff loss to New England. Johnson is a fluid athlete who demonstrates sound coverage skills. He has shown playmaking ability and would get plenty of chances playing across from Smith.

27. Dallas – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington    6’0’’   197
Brandon Carr signed an elite-level contract with the Cowboys back in 2012, but has not performed at an elite level. His 2015 salary could become a point of contention with the team throughout the summer. Morris Claiborne suffered a torn left patellar tendon in September and had a scope on his right knee in January. Both players have tenuous futures in Dallas, leaving Orlando Scandrick as the only sure thing at corner. Peters has proven to be a complete corner when on the field. He’s had off-field issues, but the Cowboys don’t usually shy away from that.

28. Denver – Cameron Erving, C, Florida State    6’5’’   313
Orlando Franklin and Will Montgomery have both moved on, leaving a couple of holes for the Broncos to fill on their offensive line. Peyton Manning averaged 40.7 pass attempts through Denver’s first ten games of last season and just 31.7 over the last six as the team emphasized the run more. If Denver hopes to continue that trend they have to improve their interior run blocking. Erving proved to be impactful in the run game once he was moved to center. His ability to quickly learn new positions indicates he has the football IQ to play center for the cerebral Manning.

29. Indianapolis – Arik Armstead, DT, Oregon    6’7’’   292
Behind LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray, the Patriots shone a huge spotlight on a major weakness of the Colts. In the two games against Indianapolis, Blount and Gray racked up 349 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. The Colts had no answer for the downhill running game of the Patriots, and need to get much stouter up front if they want to fix that glaring issue. They have added Kendall Langford up front, but he was relegated to a reserve role last year. Armstead has a huge frame which is tough to move in the run game and could be the kind of anchor this team needs.

30. Green Bay – Eric Kendricks, LB, California-Los Angeles    6’0’’   232
A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones entered last season as the starting inside linebackers for the Packers, but both saw decline in their performance last year. Jones’ role was ultimately reduced to primarily special teams and Hawk was taken off the field more frequently as the year went on. Both Hawk and Jones are gone now, and while Clay Matthews played very well at inside linebacker Green Bay would rather not have him there out of necessity. Kendricks has terrific range for a linebacker and his coverage skills would free Matthews to focus on attacking the line of scrimmage.

31. New Orleans – Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut    6’1’’   199
Over the last few years, the Saints have made a habit of investing heavily in the secondary through free agency and high draft picks. That trend has continued in this offseason with the signings of Brandon Browner and Kyle Wilson, along with the adding more guaranteed money to Keenan Lewis’ contract. With an extra first round pick in this draft, New Orleans can afford to use one to add to the depth of their defensive backfield. Jones has proven that he has world-class athleticism, and that combined with his size and press skills make him a good fit for Rob Ryan.

32. New England – Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State    6’4’’   336
During the 2012 and 2014 seasons, the Patriots boasted top ten rushing defenses, giving up just a shade under 4 yards per carry each season. In 2013, New England fell to 30th against the run and surrendered 4.5 yards per carry. It’s no accident that the dip in run defense coincided with the year the stalwart Vince Wilfork was limited to four games due to injury. Wilfork is gone after more than a decade of service, leaving a huge void in the middle. Goldman’s calling card is anchoring against the run, and he has the raw girth to clog up the middle like Wilfork did.

Round 2
33. Tennessee – D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida    6’5’’   307
Michael Oher was ineffective to say the least last year, and it took no time for the Titans to pull the plug on that experiment. Humphries is a sound pass protector who demonstrates good agility and above average footwork.

34. Tampa Bay – T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh    6’5’’   309
Assuming the Buccaneers draft their franchise quarterback, they need to do a better job up front than what Anthony Collins did last year. Clemmings is inexperienced, but has the athleticism and frame to do well in pass protection.

35. Oakland – Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State    6’5’’   271
Defensive linemen for the Raiders only combined for a paltry 12 sacks last season – less than 8 individual players had. Smith is a versatile pass rusher who wins more with short-area quickness and length than speed on the edge.

36. Jacksonville – Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State    6’0’’   221
Denard Robinson is the only current Jaguars RB who averaged 4 yards per carry in 2014, but ultimately wore down. Ajayi has good size and runs with power, and his presence would allow Robinson to shift to a change of pace role.

37. N.Y. Jets – Eli Harold, LB/DE, Virginia    6’3’’   247
Calvin Pace turns 35 years old next season, and the Jets may want to get younger and more explosive at edge rusher. Harold could use a year of seasoning behind a veteran like Pace, but his speed off the edge can be used right away.

38. Washington – Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon    6’6’’   306
The right tackle position has been unsettled for the Redskins for years, and Trent Williams is in the final year of his rookie deal. Fisher is technically sound enough to start right away and could shift to the left side if Williams leaves.

39. Chicago – Jalen Collins, CB, Louisiana State    6’1’’   203
The Bears could use another outside corner to come in on nickel situations where Tim Jennings slides to the slot. Collins is a bit raw and inexperienced, but his physical tools make him an intriguing corner to pair with Kyle Fuller.

40. N.Y. Giants – Paul Dawson, LB, Texas Christian    6’0’’   235
Jon Beason has played in 4 games or less in three of the last four years, and the Giants need more overall linebacker depth. Dawson is always around the ball and his production proves he plays faster than his timed speed indicates.

41. St. Louis – Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State    6’2’’   217
No Rams player has hit 800 receiving yards in the last seven years, and in each of those years a different player has led the team in that category. Strong can help stabilize the position with his size and ability to get to contested balls.

42. Atlanta – Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota    6’4’’   249
Tony Moeaki, Jcaob Tamme, and Levine Toilolo combined for 481 yards in 2014. Kyle Shanahan will want more production than that out of the position. Williams has above average speed and run after catch ability for a tight end.

43. Cleveland – Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma    6’5’’   329
The Browns went from giving up 3.9 yards per carry in 2013 to 4.5 yards per carry last year en route to surrendering a league high 2,265 rushing yards. Phillips can be a dominant force in the run game especially when he’s motivated.

44. New Orleans – Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke    6’3’’   323
Ben Grubbs was traded away due to salary cap issues, and the Saints need to find a quality replacement for the two-time Pro Bowler. Tomlinson is a good power blocker who along with Max Unger would help boost the run game.

45. Minnesota – Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington    6’0’’   228
Chad Greenway missed games last year for the first time since 2006, and showed major decline when on the field. Like Anthony Barr last year, Thompson would add excellent speed and versatility to the outside linebacker spot.

46. San Francisco – Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson    6’3’’   243
The retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland have left the 49ers with a sudden lack of depth at inside linebacker. Anthony has good defensive range which allows him to be the type of three-down LB the Niners like.

47. Miami – Eric Rowe, CB/S, Utah    6’1’’   205
As poorly as Cortland Finnegan played at times last season, his retirement still leaves a void on the outside for the Dolphins. Rowe has great length for a corner and might remind Miami of fellow Ute and ex-Dolphin Sean Smith.

48. San Diego – Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami (FL)    5’10’’   185
Malcom Floyd is the lone true deep threat for the Chargers, and he is entering his age 34 season. Dorsett has more than enough speed to provide an explosive deep threat, and he can fill the vacancy in the slot left by Eddie Royal.

49. Kansas City – Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State    6’4’’   246
At 32 years old and coming off of an Achilles tear, Derrick Johnson could use more help in the middle of the Chiefs’ defense. McKinney’s imposing physical presence could help improve Kansas City’s 28th ranked rushing defense.

50. Buffalo – Xavier Cooper, DT, Washington State    6’3’’   293
Head coach Rex Ryan’s arrival could mean Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes returning to linebacker necessitating more bodies up front. Cooper is an excellent athlete for his position and could be disruptive as a five-technique end.

51. Houston – Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State    6’0’’   196
DeAndre Hopkins was 12th in the NFL in receiving yards last year in a breakout season, but he’s the only reliable playmaker at the position. Smith is fast and has immense big-play potential due to his ability to track the deep ball.

52. Philadelphia – Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami (OH)    5’11’’   195
The Eagles’ secondary is undergoing a massive overhaul as Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Nate Allen are all out. Rollins showed tremendous ball skills in his one year of college football, and could fill in at corner or safety.

53. Cincinnati – Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, California-Los Angeles    6’3’’   267
Michael Johnson only has 7.5 sacks over the last two years and may not be enough to salvage the Bengals’ league-worst pass rush. Odighizuwa lacks an array of pass rush moves but has good speed and pursues the QB effectively.

54. Detroit – Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana    5’11’’   206
Joique Bell has averaged less than 4 yards per carry in each of the last two seasons, and Reggie Bush is no longer around. Coleman would add the home run threat to this backfield and could handle extra carries if necessary.

55. Arizona – Danielle Hunter, LB/DE, Louisiana State    6’5’’   252
Alex Okafor is coming off of a solid year with 8 sacks, but another fast pass rushing linebacker would be useful. Hunter could be the next in the line of defensive players from LSU drafted by Arizona (Peterson, Mathieu, Minter).

56. Pittsburgh – Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State    5’11’’   193
Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen both had significant struggles last year, and the Steelers have done little to rectify that issue. Darby’s signature attribute is his elite track speed but he can also play with an adequate level of physicality.

57. Carolina – Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan    6’4’’   232
Cam Newton displayed natural chemistry with the big-bodied Kelvin Benjamin last year and could benefit from another big target. Funchess has good size and would form a WR tandem similar to what the rival Bucs boast.

58. Baltimore – Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn    6’1’’   212
Joe Flacco finds himself without primary big-play threat Torrey Smith and would love another burner to throw to. Coates is a deep ball specialist whose skill set meshes well with Flacco’s big arm and tendency to throw downfield.

59. Denver – Carl Davis, DT, Iowa    6’5’’   320
Terrance Knighton anchored the Broncos’ 2nd ranked rush defense last year but his large frame is no longer available for Denver. Davis doesn’t quite have Pot Roast’s wide frame, but is more athletic and can occupy multiple blockers.

60. Dallas – T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama    6’1’’   226
Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle, and Lance Dunbar combined for less than 1,000 rushing yards last year and these Cowboys rely on the run. Yeldon hits cutback lanes hard and has the body type to handle a decent-sized workload.

61. Indianapolis – Ali Marpet, G/C, Hobart (NY)    6’4’’   307
There is a degree of uncertainty with the Colts’ offensive line, particularly at the unsettled center and right guard positions. Marpet projects as a versatile interior lineman and despite small school pedigree has high-end athleticism.

62. Green Bay – P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State    6’0’’   194
Tramon Williams and Davon House were lured away in free agency and left the Packers suddenly thin at corner. P.J. Williams is an off-field concern but he has enough pure coverage skills to be worth the risk for a CB-needy team.

63. Seattle – A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina    6’3’’   313
The interior of the Seahawks’ offensive line needs reinforcements after losing James Carpenter and Max Unger. Cann isn’t flashy, just the type of rigid power blocker who makes sense being placed in front of Marshawn Lynch.

64. New England – Damarious Randall, FS/CB, Arizona State    5’11’’   196
Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner left in free agency after just one year, leaving the Patriots short on CB depth. Randall has the versatility to shift to corner and can contribute on special teams, which will appeal to New England.

Round 3
65. Tampa Bay – Hau’oli Kikaha, DE/LB, Washington    6’2’’   253
Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald give the Bucs a nice interior pass rush, but Tampa Bay needs more edge rushing prowess. Kikaha has durability and athleticism concerns, but his production from the outside has been elite.

66. Tennessee – Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon    6’3’’   297
Brian Schwenke has yet to prove that he can stay healthy, or that he can be particularly effective when on the field. Grasu is a well-rounded center who is comfortable getting off of the line of scrimmage and blocking in space.

67. Jacksonville – Mario Edwards Jr., DE/DT, Florida State    6’3’’   279
Red Bryant’s release opens up a spot on the Jaguars’ defensive line for an edge-setting in. Edwards could fill that role for Jacksonville, or he could shift inside as an interior rusher if Jared Odrick is kicked out to the left end spot.

68. Oakland – Tre’ Jackson, G, Florida State    6’4’’   330
Austin Howard will apparently be moved to right tackle next season, leaving a hole at right guard. The Raiders did well drafting a power blocking guard in last year’s third round, and history could be repeated with this Jackson.

69. Washington – Derron Smith, FS, Fresno State    5’11’’   200
Brandon Meriweather has served as a stop-gap solution at free safety, and Dashon Goldson will most likely do the same. Smith can contribute with slot coverage right away while potentially being a long term answer at deep safety.

70. N.Y. Jets – Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska    5’9’’   205
Chris Johnson was brought in last year to be the Jets’ big play back, but just didn’t have the explosiveness he once had. Abdullah is a dynamic runner and has reliable hands, making him an ideal option as a complementary back.

71. Chicago – Nate Orchard, DE/LB, Utah    6’3’’   250
Lamarr Houston is slated to occupy an outside linebacker spot, but he would seem to be a much better fit as a run-stopping end. Orchard, unlike Houston, appears to be comfortable playing in space and serving as an edge rusher.

72. St. Louis – John Miller, G, Louisville    6’2’’   303
As it stands, the Rams currently have unproven players such as Barrett Jones in Tim Barnes atop their offensive line depth chart. Miller would add a power blocking element to the interior of the line and could possibly slide to center.

73. Atlanta – Alex Carter, CB, Stanford    6’0’’   196
Dan Quinn is known for his preference of bigger cornerbacks, and undersized CBs Robert McClain and Josh Wilson were allowed to walk. Carter has the size and plays with the physical, hands-on coverage style to be a system fit.

74. N.Y. Giants – Cody Prewitt, FS, Mississippi    6’2’’   208
Antrel Rolle has already signed elsewhere, and Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps are question marks leaving the Giants with zero safety depth. Prewitt has a prototypical NFL safety build with adequate range to play over the top.

75. New Orleans – Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State    5’10’’   182
Kenny Stills along his big play ability was traded away after leading the team in receiving yards last season. Lockett would bring a home run hitting threat to the team and would also be a potential candidate for punt and kick returns.

76. Minnesota – Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M    6’5’’   306
After releasing Charlie Johnson, the Vikings are in the market for some help at left guard. Ogbuehi is athletic and versatile, with the potential to slide in at guard and transition to the outside if Matt Kalil isn’t the long term answer.

77. Cleveland – Lorenzo Mauldin, LB/DE, Louisville    6’4’’   259
There aren’t many options for the Browns behind Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo, especially with Jabaal Sheard now gone. Mauldin would give Cleveland a secondary edge rusher and would also bring much welcomed maturity.

78. New Orleans – Clive Walford, TE, Miami (FL)    6’4’’   251
Josh Hill looks like a promising player, but Jimmy Graham was traded away and Benjamin Watson is 34 years old. Walford is a complete albeit not spectacular player who would be a solid piece in a committee approach at tight end.

79. San Francisco – Steven Nelson, CB, Oregon State    5’10’’   197
The cornerback position is unsettled for the 49ers after both Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox moved on in free agency. Nelson is a sure tackler with a highly competitive demeanor which helps him play bigger than his size.

80. Kansas City – Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina    5’10’’   192
It’s going to take more than just Jeremy Maclin to solidify a wide receiver group which didn’t catch a single touchdown last year. Hardy is a precise route runner who can work the intermediate areas Alex Smith likes to go to.

81. Buffalo – Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor    6’3’’   230
It doesn’t look like E.J. Manuel and his career 187.3 passing yards per game are the future at quarterback for the Bills. Petty would need some time to sit and learn behind Cassel, but would be a reasonable fit for a spread offense.

82. Houston – Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (FL)    5’11’’   236
Brian Cushing has missed 22 of 48 games over the last three years, and is recovering from three more surgeries this offseason. Perryman is a physical downhill player who could play alongside with or provide insurance for Cushing.

83. San Diego – Brett Hundley, QB, California-Los Angeles    6’3’’   226
Philip Rivers’ future with the Chargers beyond 2015 seems to be up in the air, and there is no real contingency plan in place. Hundley would benefit from learning behind a veteran like Rivers, but he has good tools for a patient team.

84. Philadelphia – Jaquiski Tartt, SS, Samford    6’1’’   221
The Eagles are likely to add multiple bodies to the secondary and that includes finding a new safety to pair with Malcolm Jenkins. Tartt has impressive size for a safety and plays with a nice combination of speed and physicality.

85. Cincinnati – Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State    6’6’’   338
None of the Bengals’ top three offensive tackles are under contract beyond 2015, and it’s unclear who will and won’t be back. Smith has good raw skills for coaches to work with and is a good fit for Cincinnati’s power scheme.

86. Arizona – D’Joun Smith, CB, Florida Atlantic    5’10’’   187
Antonio Cromartie’s departure leaves the Cardinals short on depth at outside corner, and no great complement to Patrick Peterson. Smith plays bigger than his size and proved to scouts he has enough speed to remain outside.

87. Pittsburgh – Davis Tull, LB/DE, Tennessee-Chattanooga    6’2’’   246
Jason Worilds suddenly retired, James Harrison is entering his age 37 season, and Jarvis Jones just hasn’t shown much in two years. Unlike Jones, Tull is excellent athleticism even for NFL standards to help the Steelers’ pass rush.

88. Detroit – Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson    6’1’’   304
Even with Haloti Ngata in the mix, the Lions may have to use multiple high picks to try to replace the duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Jarrett lacks ideal size, but still manages to get in opponents’ backfields often.

89. Carolina – Randy “Duke” Johnson, RB, Miami (FL)    5’9’’   207
Jonathan Stewart has only reached 200 carries in a season once (back in 2009), so running back depth is key behind him. Johnson projects as a change of pace and passing down back who can be the home run threat of this backfield.

90. Baltimore – Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State    6’0’’   208
Justin Forsett shockingly ran for 1,266 yards last year, more than doubling his previous career high. The Ravens aren’t likely to count on a repeat performance. Langford has good speed and no significant holes in his game.

91. Dallas – Markus Golden, DE, Missouri    6’2’’   260
Greg Hardy was brought in to help a pass rush that needs to improve from the outside, but his status in 2015 and beyond is clouded. Golden wins with relentless effort and his non-stop motor compensates for his undersized frame.

92. Denver – Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State    6’6’’   311
Orlando Franklin leaving in free agency could leave the Broncos searching for another lineman with similar versatility. Sambrailo is mobile and a good fit in a zone blocking scheme. He could project to guard or right tackle.

93. Indianapolis – Josh Shaw, CB/FS, Southern California    6’0’’   201
Dwight Lowery is a journeyman stop-gap solution at safety while Mike Adams, now 34 years old, can’t play forever. Shaw brings good size and range if he transitions to safety, and he can add needed CB depth to the Colts.

94. Green Bay – Jeff Heuerman, TE, Ohio State    6’5’’   254
Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers are both serviceable options at tight end, but neither has a terribly high ceiling. Heuerman would bring above average speed and athleticism to the position and is also a competent blocker.

95. Seattle – Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland    6’0’’   195
Marshawn Lynch led the Seahawks with 4 receiving touchdowns last year, highlighting the need for play-making pass catchers. Diggs can be the dynamic run after catch receiver and return ace the team wanted Percy Harvin to be.

96. New England – David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa    6’1’’   224
The losses of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley leave the Patriots thin at running back behind the mercurial LeGarrette Blount. Johnson would be a great option as a receiving threat and can also handle a solid workload.

97. New England – Chris Conley, WR, Georgia    6’2’’   213
The Patriots ranked 25th in the league in yards per catch last year with Rob Gronkowski being their closest thing to a deep threat. Conley is a phenomenal athlete whose straight line speed could really open things up for this offense.

98. Kansas City – Henry Anderson, DE, Stanford    6’6’’   294
Mike DeVito and Jaye Howard are not under contract beyond next year, and the Chiefs may look for a long term partner for Allen Bailey. Anderson brings great length to the defensive line and consistently gives maximum effort.

99. Cincinnati – Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State    5’11’’   182
Since they lost restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins a year ago, the Bengals haven’t had an ideal fit at slot receiver. Green has the quickness and polished route running to fill that role, and has proven to be a reliable productive target.

The Real Problem with “Deflate-gate”

It’s ok to say it. It’s ok to be honest. The New England Patriots are cheaters. That’s not discrediting Bill Belichick. That’s not discounting Tom Brady. It certainly is not being a “hater”. It’s just stating the truth. Whether it is something as large-scale as Spygate (For those who dismiss Spygate as “nothing” – you don’t get $750,000 in total fines and lose a 1st round draft pick because you “might have” cheated. That was clearly a definite violation of rules, and not just simply what “everyone else” does.), or something relatively minor like Rodney Harrison’s 2007 HGH suspension, this team cheats. “Deflate-gate”, as insignificant as New England apologists try to make it out to be, is just the most recent example of what we already knew if we’re being honest with ourselves. The question isn’t whether or not they are cheaters, at this point the question is why.

 
Going back to when Tom Brady was a relatively unknown commodity and the Patriots were a clear underdog to the high-powered “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams, it was logical as to why the Patriots might feel a need to cheat. St. Louis were 14-point favorites, and the Patriots felt the need to gain an unfair advantage over a team they did not match up well with on paper. Illegally filming the opposition’s practices was a sensible albeit unscrupulous way to accomplish that. However, the circumstances were much different in the 2014-15 AFC Championship game. Going into the game, Andrew Luck had been 0-3 against New England, losing by an average score of 48-22 including a 42-20 beatdown earlier in the 2014 regular season. So there was no way the Patriots viewed the Colts as any type of a threat as they did the 2001 Rams. It’s obvious the Patriots didn’t cheat to gain a competitive advantage, which leaves only one logical conclusion as to why they would cheat…

 
The Patriots now cheat just for the thrill of cheating. This is the only conclusion which makes any sense. They survived Spygate. They were fined an amount they could easily pay. They were stripped of the 31st pick of the 2008 draft, but inexplicably allowed to keep the 7th pick. They were allowed to keep their championships. Their legacy is still intact. And they know for every time they do get caught cheating, they have enough football fans who will blindly support them that their reputation as a “model organization” is widely maintained. So, like a child without parents willing instill discipline, the Patriots are doing this not out of necessity but simply because they can. Because the NFL has been soft on the Patriots, they do not fear consequence and as a result will push and break the rules in ways the other 31 teams in the league would not dare. This is dangerous for the NFL because it directly conflicts with the competitive integrity of the league, but Roger Goodell doesn’t mind. He’s much more concerned with who shows up to press conferences and what color cleats players wear.

 
In a vacuum, “Deflate-gate” was very minor. The Colts themselves admit that the amount of PSI in the game balls had little to no bearing on the game. However, the people who eagerly dismiss this latest scandal as nothing are missing the bigger picture. Because of the league’s hesitance to drop the hammer on the Patriots, that team feels impervious to the league’s authority. Consequently, more rogue and defiant acts from this franchise are sure to follow. This is why Patriots CB Brandon Browner is comfortable publicly making comments about trying to break former teammate Richard Sherman’s arm if possible during Super Bowl XLIX. One would think after the NFL essentially dismantled the New Orleans Saints’ franchise with significant suspensions for similar rhetoric being spoken in their locker room, NFL personnel would shy away from such language all together. It seems however that if you’re associated with the Patriots, you can feel free to do whatever you want. Roger Goodell would argue this is not the reality of the situation, but it certainly is the perception and as the saying goes “perception is reality”. And the reality is “Deflate-gate” isn’t about beating the Colts or the legitimacy of that game. It’s about one team not being under the notoriously heavy-handed authority of the NFL’s governing body. This should be the focus of this scandal, not scientific experiments and explanations on the minimal impact of two pounds of air pressure on a single football game.

Right Ruling Regarding Ray Rice

I’ll be the one to say it. The NFL got it right when it comes to the two game suspension for Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice. The outrage by many fans at the “lack of punishment” commissioner Roger Goodell handed down to Rice is completely misdirected. There are a few things to keep in mind here.

First, Rice and his wife (fiancée at the time of the incident) were both charged with simple assault. Say what you may about that, but all we know from that is the two parties involved struck each other. While I don’t condone men hitting women, as a man who has been assaulted by a woman in a domestic situation I know firsthand how difficult it can be to essentially let a woman hit you, whether the blows inflict significant damage or not. None of us know what happened, and while Rice should have exhibited more self-control it is unfair to assume he is some monster based on one incident in which we only know sketchy details about.

Second, Rice is virtually facing little to not punishment from the legal system. The NFL should not have to serve as the United States judicial system. If you want to be angry, be angry at the courts. Be angry at judges and prosecutors. Be angry at a legal penal system that is extremely flawed and rewards people who do wrong while punishing people who try to do right. The judicial system of the United States is in shambles – a problem that goes all the way up to the Supreme Court. There were many who were outraged when Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was initially suspended six games without being convicted., and many thought it was unfair that then Titans CB Adam “Pacman” Jones was suspended for a year without having actually been convicted of anything. At that time Commissioner Goodell was essentially called a power-hungry bully who was handing out unjust punishment just because he could. So the commissioner is ridiculed when he ignores the legal facts and ridiculed when he takes legal facts into consideration. Some people have to learn to be consistent.

Third, I think you do have to take what Janay Palmer did after the incident into consideration – marry Ray Rice. It’s one thing for a woman to avoid reporting an incident to the police out of fear of retribution against her. It’s quite another for a woman to marry a man a month or so after he allegedly knocks her out. At the end of the day, if Janay Palmer is so happy with the way that Rice treats her that she would marry him, why should any of us waste time being angered or disgusted on her behalf? We should invest that energy in our own lives and families rather than waste that energy on someone who clearly doesn’t want or need your sympathy. As a result of this story, many people are focusing on the “message” being sent by the NFL that domestic violence is not to be taken seriously or that the NFL “doesn’t care” about women. The message I get from this story is that as a society something needs to change when a woman marrying a man who allegedly knocked her out doesn’t raise an eyebrow. We live in a society where most women love “bad boys” and we make excuses when grown women embrace and love the people causing them the most harm, physically and otherwise. The NFL is a business which is in place for the entertainment of its millions of consumers. Anyone who is looking to the NFL to be their moral compass needs to question their own judgment, not Ray Rice’s or Roger Goodell’s.

2014 NFL Mock Draft

Here is the first post of the new blog for X Marks the Sport. Enjoy! Comments welcomed and encouraged.

2014 NFL Mock Draft
Round 1
1. Houston – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina    6’5’’  266
The last time the Texans had the #1 pick in the draft, they took an athletic anomaly at defensive end (Mario Williams) over a popular Texas-grown QB. It worked out well as Williams made two Pro Bowls and is the franchise leader in sacks. There is a strong chance history repeats itself. Another highly athletic defensive end, J.J. Watt, who by age 24 has been to two Pro Bowls and has been named Defensive Player of the Year, has also worked out well. Amazingly, Clowney may be even more athletically gifted and will be a nightmare to defend if paired with Watt.

2. St. Louis – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn    6’5’’  332
Going back to his last year of college, Sam Bradford has missed at least six games in three out of the last five years. The Rams have publicly continued to back Bradford, and have supported him in other ways such as trading up in last year’s draft to get him another weapon. This year, St. Louis could support Bradford by improving the protection in front of him. Robinson has a great combination of size, power, and agility. He could start on the right side immediately and possibly provide insurance for left tackle in case Jake Long’s knee continues to be a problem.

3. Jacksonville – Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo    6’3’’  251
In 2013, Jacksonville finished the season tied for last in sacks. This is nothing new for the Jaguars, as they have ranked in the bottom two of the league in sacks in four of the last five years. Coming from Seattle and bringing the Seahawks’ defensive mentality with him, head coach Gus Bradley won’t let this trend continue. Re-signing Jason Babin and adding Chris Clemons helps, but the Jaguars need more help. Mack can do a little of everything, and has mastered the art of the strip sack. His ability to line up all over a defensive formation is an added bonus.

4. Cleveland – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson    6’1’’  211
Even after being suspended for the first two games of last year, Josh Gordon had nearly 150 more receiving yards than any other player. He also finished 2nd in the league in yards per catch. Despite Gordon’s brilliance, the Browns still ranked 29th in the league in yards per pass attempt. The money Cleveland gave Andrew Hawkins this offseason indicates they want to add more playmakers in the passing game. Watkins would give the Browns as much speed as any team at wide receiver. He plays bigger than his size, and is a game-breaker when the ball is in his hands.

5. Oakland – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M    6’0’’  207
Matt Schaub was brought in to be a stopgap solution for the Raiders, but he is clearly not the long-term answer. He is fresh off of a season where he had his lowest passer rating since 2007 and had his highest interception total since 2009. He also set a dubious NFL record by throwing a pick six in four consecutive games. Schaub is entering his age 33 season and has no guaranteed money in his contract beyond the 2014 season. Manziel has a knack for making plays whether he sticks to the script or not. His mobility would be a plus behind Oakland’s mediocre offensive line.

6. Atlanta – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan    6’7’’  309
Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times last year, 16 more times than he’d been sacked in any other season in his career. Ryan is one of four quarterbacks who has attempted over 600 passes in each of the last two years, a clear indication that Atlanta has become more dependent of their passing game. That being the case, improving the pass protection in front of their franchise QB becomes an urgent need. Lewan plays with an aggressive demeanor, which should endear him to owner Arthur Blank. He is also a solid pass protector, thanks to his sometimes underrated athleticism.

7. Tampa Bay – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M    6’5’’  231
Newly acquired quarterback Josh McCown was the surprise of the league in 2013, finishing the season 3rd in the league in passer rating among qualifying QBs. He absolutely thrived in an offense where he had two big receivers on the outside who could win jumpballs and make plays down the field. The Bucs already have one of those guys in Vincent Jackson, and the trade of Mike Williams leaves a spot open across from Jackson. Evans has solid straight line speed for his size and has an ability to go over the top of defenders and consistently make contested catches.

8. Minnesota – Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida    6’5’’  232
The Vikings have made no secret of the fact that they want to acquire a new young quarterback. Christian Ponder no longer appears to be the future for Minnesota, and they desperately need to stabilize the quarterback position. In each year from 2010 to 2013there were at least 20 players who threw for over 3,000 yards. Yet the Vikings have not had a player reach the 3,000 yard mark in a season since Brett Favre did it in 2009. Bortles is viewed by many as the most “pro-ready” QB of this draft. He has the size and arm strength that Norv Turner prefers in his quarterbacks.

9. Buffalo – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M    6’5’’  308
Erik Pears has not fared very well in his time as the Bills’ starting right tackle, and Chris Hairston simply can’t seem to get healthy enough to audition for the position. Doug Marrone’s run-heavy offense would be easier to run with an upgrade on the right side of the offensive line. Matthews is widely considered the safest prospect in this draft due to his refined technique and well-rounded game. He is a good enough run blocker to be an asset in Buffalo’s offense. His ability in pass protection would help E.J. Manuel, who had durability issues in his rookie season, take fewer hits.

10. Detroit – Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Louisiana State    5’11’’  198
Over the last two seasons, no QB has attempted more passes than the 1,361 Matthew Stafford has. Jim Caldwell oversaw a Ravens offense that was that went from 21st in 2012 to 10th last year in pass play percentage, so Detroit’s reliance on the passing game isn’t likely to go away. Even after the addition of Golden Tate III , the Lions still need more weapons alongside Calvin Johnson to bolster their oft used aerial attack. Beckham is one of the most explosive athletes in the draft and his presence as a home run threat would shift some defensive attention away from Johnson.

11. Tennessee – Anthony Barr, LB, California-Los Angeles    6’5’’  255
In Ray Horton’s primarily 3-4 defense, you can’t have too many outside edge rushers. That is the reason veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips was picked up. Last year when Horton was hired as defensive coordinator for Cleveland, they used their top pick on edge rusher Barkevious Mingo to cater to Horton’s attacking philosophy. Likewise, if Barr is still on the board here, he could be added as an asset in Horton’s defense. Barr is still learning the LB position, but if he’s allowed to use his speed and athleticism to just go after the QB, that would be ideal for him.

12. N.Y. Giants – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh    6’1’’  285
For years, the Giants have been noted for having one of the deepest defensive lines in the league. That is no longer the case after Linval Joseph and Justin Tuck left via free agency, and Shaun Rogers’ contract was not renewed. Tuck had nearly a third of the team’s sacks last year, while he and Joseph were the top two Giants in tackles for loss. Donald is the type of impact player who New York needs to rebuild their defensive line. He lives in opponents’ backfields and had more tackles for loss in 2013 than the other top DT prospects in this draft had in their careers.

13. St. Louis – Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama    6’1’’  208
Despite boasting one of the league’s top pass rushes (3rd in the league in sacks last year), the Rams ranked dead last in opponents’ yards per attempt and completion percentage. This is of course an indictment on the secondary, which has since lost Darian Stewart. Rodney McLeod Jr. had some good moments last year, but having an impact player at the back end of the secondary to clean up would really help St. Louis. Clinton-Dix has tremendous range, and uses his closing speed to be a factor against both the pass and the run. He always seems to be around the ball.

14. Chicago – Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville    5’11’’  207
To put it bluntly, the Bears have to get better at safety heading into next year. Major Wright left to reunite with Lovie Smith in an effort to bounce back from a bad season. This leaves Chris Conte, who struggled through last season and will be sidelined during the offseason after shoulder surgery, Ryan Mundy, and M.D. Jennings who are better suited for backup roles despite being starters last year. Pryor played a lot of single high safety in college, so he got to showcase his excellent range. He’s not afraid to lower his shoulder and deliver some big time hits.

15. Pittsburgh – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State    5’11’’  199
The transition for the Steelers to get younger in the secondary has begun, as veteran Ryan Clark was replaced in free agency by Mike Mitchell. The next step in this transition may be to find the heir apparent for Ike Taylor, who will be 34 years old by the time the draft rolls around. Taylor took a 60% pay cut for the 2014 season following a rough year, and could be in line for a reduced role moving forward. Dennard is physical both in coverage and in run support, and that physicality would fit in well with the Steeler culture and Mike Tomlin’s football philosophy.

16. Dallas – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame    6’2’’  331
Over the course of the last several months, the Cowboys have lost DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, and Jason Hatcher. After switching to a base 4-3 alignment last year, Dallas needs to add bodies along the defensive line. The addition of Henry Melton should help up front, but they need more. Specifically, they could use a run stuffing presence to pair alongside Melton, who is more of a gap-shooting penetrator. Nix is a simply a large man who is difficult to move and create running lanes. He has 3-4 nose tackle size, but his surprising agility means he can play in a 4-3.

17. Baltimore – Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia    6’6’’  314
Michael Oher is one of the more well-known right tackles in the league thanks to the movie “The Blind Side”, but his play didn’t live up to his fame. Oher’s departure isn’t a big loss for Baltimore, but they still need a replacement. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is installing his zone blocking scheme which Moses, who has great feet for a player his size, played in at Virginia. Program pedigree works in Moses’ favor as Virginia products D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Branden Albert, and current Raven Eugene Monroe have all enjoyed very successful NFL careers.

18. N.Y. Jets – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State    5’10’’  189
Jeremy Kerley led the team last year with 523 receiving yards, which was just the 86th highest total in the league. New York’s wide receivers combined to catch a total of just 7 touchdowns a season ago, less than 22 players had individually. Eric Decker was brought in to be part of the solution, but the Jets still need to provide more playmakers for Geno Smith and/or Michael Vick. Brandin Cooks has tremendous speed, and is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. He would be a nice complementary piece to the physical presence Decker provides on the outside.

19. Miami – Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame    6’4’’  308
Two words can sum up the Dolphins’ offensive line last year: complete disaster. Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin were in the news for all of the wrong reasons, and obviously neither player’s talents could be brought back to South Beach. John Jerry, who was also implicated in “Bullygate”, is gone. Tyson Clabo had a rough 2013 campaign and will not be retained. Martin is a solid all-around lineman whose only real “weakness” is lacking the frame of an NFL tackle. Miami has plenty of holes to fill, so Martin can help no matter what position he ultimately winds up at.

20. Arizona – Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois    5’11’’  193
Yeremiah Bell is contemplating retirement and not expected to return to the Cardinals next year. Ward spent a lot of time at strong safety in college and can fill the position, and he also offers enough versatility to potentially slide to other positions in the secondary in subpackages. His coverage skills are considered his biggest strength. He could help an Arizona defense that gave up over 1,100 yards and 16 TDs to tight ends last year. Ward is undersized, but that doesn’t stop him from being physical as he did have about 300 tackles in his last three years of college.

21. Green Bay – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina    6’4’’  250
While it does look like Jermichael Finley will be able to continue his football career after suffering a scary vertebrae injury, the odds are against a return to the Packers. Finley’s absence leaves primarily blocking Andrew Quarless and raw prospect Brandon Bostick as Green Bay’s top tight end options. Ebron would represent good value here if he lasts to this point of the draft. He possesses an exceptional combination of size and speed, and demonstrates excellent run after catch skills. His hands are inconsistent, but the Packers did put up with Finley’s frustrating drops.

22. Philadelphia – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State    6’0’’  202
It’s no secret that the Eagles need to upgrade a defensive unit that ranked dead last in passing defense last year and 29th in total defense. Cary Williams in particular had his struggles in pass coverage, and may not be the answer moving forward. Brandon Boykin had an excellent season, but he is strictly a slot corner and won’t help the Eagles on the outside. Nolan Carroll was added to the mix in the offseason, but he is ideally a #3 corner on the outside. Gilbert has the physical tools to develop into a top-level corner and displayed great playmaking abilities last season.

23. Kansas City – Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California    6’0’’  192
Jamaal Charles had a huge burden to carry as the centerpiece of the Chiefs’ offense last season. He finished 3rd in the league in rushing yards, and also led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He scored 19 of the team’s 41 offensive TDs (46%). Having a weapon like that is nice, but Kansas City needs someone to help carry the burden and take some defensive attention off of Dwayne Bowe. Lee’s speed and playmaking ability would be a welcomed addition, and could potentially replace the explosive Dexter McCluster on punt returns.

24. Cincinnati – Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri    6’4’’  273
In 2012, Michael Johnson racked up 11.5 sacks, good enough to tie for 9th in the NFL. The sacks were down for Johnson in 2013, but he still made an impact as he led all defensive linemen with 9 pass breakups. The Bengals couldn’t afford Johnson in free agency, so they could be looking for another impactful defensive end. Ealy is not a very polished pass rusher, but his size and speed on the edge are intriguing. He is excellent at batting balls at the line of scrimmage (12 passes defensed in the last two seasons), so he can replace Johnson’s impact there right away.

25. San Diego – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech     6’0’’  190
The Chargers were one of two teams (the other team being the Raiders) to rank in the bottom five in the league in opponents’ total passing yards, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and passer rating. San Diego is unlikely to make a return trip to the playoffs if they don’t improve their pass defense. They fixed part of the problem by cutting oft burned Derek Cox, but now they need to add help. Fuller has lingering durability concerns, but his athletic ability and willingness to play physical make him a good bet to be a quality cover corner as long as he can stay healthy.

26. Cleveland – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State    6’2’’  214
Brian Hoyer was surprisingly effective in his three games as a starter last year, going 3-0 for a Browns team that was 1-12 when anyone else started. However Hoyer, the owner of a career 77.4 passer rating, does not appear to be the long term solution at QB. At the very least, Cleveland needs depth at quarterback after moving on from Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. Carr has arguably the best arm talent of any of this year’s quarterback prospects, and his ability to throw accurate deep balls would be a great match to pair up with the extremely explosive Josh Gordon.

27. New Orleans – Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian    5’9’’  189
Rob Ryan’s coaching and changes in the Saints’ secondary helped them go from a historically bad defense ranking 31st against the pass in 2012 to a defense that was 2nd best against the pass in 2013. Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro were big additions last offseason, and the big contract given to Jairus Byrd this year indicates New Orleans is still looking for ways to upgrade their secondary. Verrett is built like a nickelback, but plays bigger than he is and can handle the outside if asked to. Other than size, he has good measurables to go along with excellent ball skills.

28. Carolina – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama    6’7’’  322
Jordan Gross’ retirement is a huge blow to the Panthers’ hopes of pulling off the elusive task of winning the NFC South in back-to-back seasons. Without Gross Carolina is currently projected to start Byron Bell, an undrafted player who has struggled at right tackle, and Nate Chandler, an undrafted player who the Panthers initially used as a defensive end. Kouandjio possesses arguably the best combination of size and athleticism of any offensive lineman in the draft. He is an injury risk due to an arthritic knee, but Carolina desperately needs an upgrade at the position.

29. New England – Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota    6’6’’  310
At the moment, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are projected to be the Patriots’ starting defensive tackles. Wilfork is 32 years old and is coming off of a torn Achilles’ tendon. Kelly is 33 years old and tore his ACL last fall. With both players past their prime and returning from significant injuries, New England needs young talent into the middle of their defensive line. Hageman wasn’t consistent in college, but looked unstoppable at times. The Patriots are known to be willing risk-takers for talented players, and Hageman’s rare ability makes him worth the risk.

30. San Francisco – Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State    5’11’’  194
Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are now on the other side of the bay, and Chris Culliver is a major question mark due to significant legal issues on top of rehabbing a torn ACL. Eric Wright is back as a bargain bin free agent, but he was benched last postseason. San Francisco showed their willingness to take a chance on an athletically gifted corner when they signed Chris Cook, and they may look for another one with this pick. Roby is a tremendous athlete with plenty of speed to recover if beaten or close in quickly on the ball. The hope is that he regains his 2012 form.

31. Denver – C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama    6’2’’  234
Super Bowl XLVIII saw the Broncos fail in every aspect of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. It’s clear by their offseason moves however, that Denver viewed its defense as the team’s weakness. They signed Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward to roughly $110 million worth of contracts while allowing key contributors on offense to walk. Mosley would be an ideal pick for a team that hasn’t yet addressed middle linebacker after Wesley Woodyard’s departure. Size and durability concerns exist, but Mosley is one of this year’s most refined prospects.

32. Seattle – Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State    6’3’’  251
One of the biggest strengths of the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks last year was their depth along the defensive line. That depth has been negatively impacted by the losses of Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, and Clinton McDonald. Lawrence would help replenish the depth Seattle likes to have up front. He has experience playing in various positions, which is a plus for any player coming into a defense that likes to move their players around in their defensive front seven. Lawrence is built similarly to the departed Clemons, so his build would not be an issue.

Round 2
33. Houston – Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh    6’4’’  228
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum are not viewed as starters, so the Texans need a new signal caller for next year. Savage had a meteoric rise through the draft process and has the prototypical build Bill O’Brien prefers for his QBs.

34. Washington – Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State    6’1’’  237
There is no obvious replacement for London Fletcher on the Redskins’ roster. Shazier brings a tremendous amount of speed to the position. He is undersized, but Washington has brought in several smaller linebackers in recent years.

35. Cleveland – Joel Bitonio, OT/G, Nevada    6’4’’  302
Shawn Lauvao and Oniel Cousins were allowed to walk, and Mike Shanahan will want someone who fits in his zone blocking scheme to replace them. Bitonio has the mobility to fit in and also potentially offers positional versatility.

36. Oakland – Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana    6’3’’  215
No receiver prospect has benefited more from the pre-draft process than Latimer. He has proven to be more athletic than some thought, and has the physical tools to develop into the number one receiving option that the Raiders need.

37. Atlanta – Dee Ford, DE, Auburn    6’2’’  252
The transition to a base 3-4 defense means the Falcons need at least one more pass rusher at outside linebacker. Ford is a quick edge rusher with a non-stop motor. He has experience dropping into coverage and playing in space.

38. Tampa Bay – Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, California-Los Angeles    6’4’’  307
Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith are upgrades at the tackle and center positions, but the Bucs still have major question marks at guard. Su’a-Filo is a versatile all-around lineman with a nice blend of strength and agility.

39. Jacksonville – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville    6’2’’  214
Chad Henne has never thrown more TDs than INTs in any season. Bridgewater was the consensus top QB in this draft until concerns over his slight frame and average physical tools were highlighted. He’s a potential Day 2 steal.

40. Minnesota – Kyle Van Noy, LB, Brigham Young    6’3’’  243
Mike Zimmer will want to see upgrades made to a Vikings linebacker corps that often struggled last year. Van Noy is a smart player who would bring pass rush ability to the outside without being a complete liability in coverage.

41. Buffalo – Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State    6’3’’  273
Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes form a strong pass rushing duo, but Jim Schwartz likes to use waves of defensive linemen. Crichton is a solid pass rusher who is good enough in other areas to be an asset on any down and distance.

42. Tennessee – Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois    6’2’’  226
Organizational confidence in Jake Locker seems to be waning, and Ken Whisenhunt may want to bring in his own guy. Garoppolo needs more polish, but his strong arm, accuracy, and quick release are good pieces to work with.

43. N.Y. Giants – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington    6’5’’  262
It’s been a rotating door at tight end for the Giants with Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, Martellus Bennett, and Brandon Myers in recent years. Seferian-Jenkins fits the Tom Coughlin mold of a blocker and mid-range receiving threat.

44. St. Louis – Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State    5’8’’  184
Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson make a solid young pair of corners, but the Rams need more depth. Joyner fits well into the nickelback role and Gregg Williams would love to use his ability to successfully blitz from the slot.

45. Detroit – Jeremiah Attaochu, LB/DE, Georgia Tech    6’3’’  252
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has expressed interest in adding an outside rushing linebacker into the fold. Attaochu is inexperienced, but is a fast and gifted pass rusher. Sounds a little like Ezekiel Ansah did last year.

46. Pittsburgh – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State    6’5’’  240
The losses of Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders in back-to-back seasons have the Steelers in the market for a receiver. Benjamin has tremendous size and would be the big red zone target Ben Roethlisberger likes to have.

47. Dallas – Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina    6’6’’  272
Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware combined for half (17 of 34) of the Cowboys’ sacks last year, and both are gone. Martin showed an improved ability to get to the QB in 2013 and has can rush the passer from different positions.

48. Baltimore – Deone Bucannon, FS/SS, Washington State    6’1’’  211
Matt Elam is being moved from free safety to his more natural strong safety position, so he needs to be paired with a deep safety. Bucannon is known for his hitting, but he increased his interception total for each season in college.

49. N.Y. Jets – Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech    6’5’’  265
Despite not having great talent at the position, Geno Smith threw 5 of his 12 touchdown passes to tight ends in his rookie season. Amaro has reliable hands and certainly possesses the size to become a productive red zone target.

50. Miami – Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee    6’6’’  311
After a strong year in 2012, Tyson Clabo’s play fell off of a cliff in 2013 leaving the right tackle position unsettled. James has experience and looks comfortable playing in a system with zone concepts, which Joe Philbin likes to run.

51. Chicago – Timmy Jernigan Jr., DT, Florida State    6’2’’  299
The 5.3 yards per carry the Bears gave up last season was historically bad, and that must be addressed early in the draft. Jernigan is a good run defender who uses his quick hands and agility to be disruptive at the point of attack.

52. Arizona – Zach Mettenberger, QB, Louisiana State    6’5’’  224
Carson Palmer turned 34 in December, and in his words he won’t play forever. Mettenberger would be eased into the fold here coming off of his torn ACL. His huge arm would be an asset in Bruce Arians’ vertical-based offense.

53. Green Bay – Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State    6’3’’  298
Evan Dietrich-Smith was lost in free agency, so the Packers will be looking for their 4th starting center since 2011. Richburg is an intelligent player, and has the mobility to execute the zone blocking concepts Green Bay deploys.

54. Philadelphia – Marcus Smith, DE/LB, Louisville    6’3’’  251
Trent Cole and Connor Barwin performed well against the run last year, but neither consistently got to the quarterback. Smith brings good speed off the edge, and has shown that he is comfortable operating in space.

55. Cincinnati – Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson    5’11’’  197
Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick have struggled to stay healthy, and Terence Newman is entering his age 36 season. Breeland brings size, length, and physicality to the position, and has the potential to be Newman’s heir apparent.

56. San Francisco – Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson 6’4’’ 211
Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin make up one of the league’s better receiving duos, but neither is a real vertical threat. Bryant has plenty of speed to be a downfield threat, and his presence would help open up the 49ers’ offense.

57. San Diego – Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi    6’2’’  221
Keenan Allen turned out to be a steal in the 2013 draft, but injuries helped to decimate the depth at the wide receiver position. Moncrief has an intriguing combination of size and speed, and does a nice job picking up yards after catch.

58. New Orleans – Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt    6’3’’  212
Kenny Stills was a pleasant surprise as a deep threat last year, and Joe Morgan also has plenty of speed. Matthews is more of a mid-range run after catch receiver who could take advantage of space opened up by the deep threats.

59. Indianapolis – Marcus Martin, C/G, Southern California    6’3’’  320
Phil Costa was signed to upgrade to help improve the struggling interior of the Colts offensive line – then he retired. Martin can help at guard and/or center and he would help establish the power running game Indy wants to establish.

60. Carolina – Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State    6’1’’  212
Projected starters Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant have combined to catch 42 touchdowns in 262 career games. Adams has adequate speed, and his ability to go and catch a ball at its highest point should help in the red zone.

61. San Francisco – Dominique Easley, DT, Florida    6’2’’  288
With draft picks to spare, the 49ers could use last year’s strategy of drafting and stashing highly rated players coming off of significant injuries. Easley has major knee concerns, but has been a disruptive force when healthy.

62. New England – Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State    6’0’’  230
LeGarrette Blount is gone, so the Patriots could be looking for insurance if (when?) Stevan Ridley is benched for fumbling. Hyde has the size and power to be a between the tackles runner but is also a solid all-around tailback.

63. Denver – Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska    6’3’’  218
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey are gone, and Chris Harris Jr. is recuperating from a torn ACL. After struggling with Seattle’s big corners, the Broncos may look more at a big cover corner like Jean-Baptiste.

64. Seattle – Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State    6’3’’  336
The interior of the Seahawks’ line wasn’t up to par last season, and Seattle hasn’t committed to James Carpenter beyond next year. Jackson moves quite well for his size and has enough strength to anchor at the point of attack.

Round 3
65. Houston – Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State    6’1’’  250
Depth at linebacker is a concern for the Texans, particularly inside to go along with injury-risk Brian Cushing. Bradford has the versatility to fill a void on the inside and the ability to shift outside as a situational pass rusher.

66. Washington – Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford    6’5’’  323
Tyler Polumbus has been below average at right tackle, and he isn’t a great fit on Jay Gruden’s power blocking scheme. Fleming brings more girth and power to the position and demonstrates a good feel for the game.

67. Oakland – Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State    6’5’’  315
Khalif Barnes was brought back for another year, but ideally the Raiders would do better at left guard. Turner would be an immediate upgrade at guard and could eventually challenge the struggling Menelik Watson at right tackle.

68. Atlanta – Tre Mason, RB, Auburn    5’9’’  207
Steven Jackson is entering his age 31 season, and Jacquizz Rodgers only averages 3.6 yards per carry in his career. Mason shows excellent burst when running between the tackles and could eventually develop into a feature back.

69. Tampa Bay – Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia    6’1’’  207
Josh McCown turns 35 in July and isn’t a long-term option at QB. The new Bucs regime doesn’t seem sold on Mike Glennon. Murray makes quick decisions and has quality intangibles, helping to make up for average physical tools.

70. Jacksonville – Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas    6’5’’  312
For the first time in about a dozen years, the Jaguars will be looking for someone other than Brad Meester to man the center spot. Swanson had a pre-draft process, but that shouldn’t overshadow four years of quality performance.

71. Cleveland – Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida    5’11’’  194
Though Buster Skrine showed some improvement last year, he is still best suited as a nickelback/slot corner. Like his high-profile younger half-brother Sammy, Watkins is a smooth athlete with the speed to run with most players.

72. Minnesota – Stephon Tuitt, DE/DT, Notre Dame    6’5’’  304
Jared Allen became expendable due in part to the emergence of Everson Griffen, but that’s still 11.5 sacks from 2013 to replace. Tuitt would provide depth as a third rusher and potentially an interior rusher on passing downs.

73. Buffalo – Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame    6’6’’  270
Scott Chandler isn’t a bad option at tight end, but he’s not an inspiring one either. Niklas is a strong run blocker which fits right in with what the Bills want to do. He has flashed good receiving skills when given the opportunity.

74. N.Y. Giants – Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State    6’3’’  220
If Victor Cruz’ comments mean anything, the Giants need one more weapon on the outside while he mans the slot. Robinson isn’t an elite athlete, but he runs great routes and would fit in the newly implemented West Coast offense.

75. St. Louis – A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama    6’3’’  220
Sam Bradford will enter next year as the starter, but his future beyond that is uncertain. The Rams could be looking for a long-term starter. McCarron would serve as a game manager for a team with a solid running game and defense.

76. Detroit – Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood (MO)    6’1’’  198
Chris Houston is coming off of an injury-plagued season and Rashean Mathis turns 34 this year. Desir would be well served to be eased in behind a pair of veterans. He is from a small school, but displays NFL-level athleticism.

77. San Francisco – Trent Murphy, DE/LB, Stanford    6’5’’  250
Aldon Smith is one of the more gifted pass rushers in the game, but the 49ers need insurance due to his off-field troubles. Murphy is a relentless pass rusher who even without top level speed knows how to get in the backfield.

78. Dallas – Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, OT, Tennessee    6’6’’  336
Coming off of his second back surgery in a year, Tony Romo needs his offensive line to protect him now more than ever. Richardson has tantalizing physical attributes and with some refinement would be an upgrade over Doug Free.

79. Baltimore – Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice    6’0’’  193
As the team’s third corner, Corey Graham led the Ravens with 4 INT last year. His departure leaves Baltimore thin at the position. Gaines has the size, speed, an intelligence to be an impact player in a reserve role like Graham was.

80. N.Y. Jets – Keith McGill, CB/S, Utah    6’3’’  211
Rex Ryan didn’t get his wish of impactful secondary help in free agency, but maybe he will in the draft. McGill has plenty of size to play in Ryan’s press coverage, and if he has to move to safety he’d help New York there too.

81. Miami – Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin    6’0’’  248
Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler were fairly expensive busts at linebacker last year, necessitating help being brought in. Borland doesn’t have great physical tools, but he would bring some welcomed on-field awareness.

82. Chicago – Jeremy Hill, RB, Louisiana State    6’1’’  233
Matt Forté’s 363 touches last year were his highest total since 2008, and the Bears may want to ease his load a little. Hill would play the short-yardage power back role that Michael Bush was expected to fill when he was in Chicago.

83. Cleveland – Terrance West, RB, Towson    5’9’’  225
Projected starter Ben Tate has never had 200 carries in a season due in large part to durability issues. West showed in college that he can handle a huge workload, and his decisive cutting is perfect for Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

84. Arizona – Chris Smith, DE/LB, Arkansas    6’1’’  266
36-year-old John Abraham led the team with 11.5 sacks last year as their only impactful rushing linebacker. Despite having less than ideal height, Smith has very good arm length and understands how to use that to defeat blockers.

85. Green Bay – Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State    5’11’’  198
Morgan Burnett had a disappointing season last year, and the Packers discovered M.D. Jennings wasn’t the answer. Brooks has closing speed and anticipation skills and would have had a monster senior year if he had better hands.

86. Philadelphia – Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado    6’0’’  175
DeSean Jackson was a major part of Kelly’s offense last year, as he 2nd in the league in catches of 20+ yards. Richardson is undersized (like Jackson), but he has plenty of speed to replace Jackson’s home run hitting presence.

87. Kansas City – Dakota Dozier, OT/G, Furman    6’4’’  313
Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah, and Geoff Schwartz are all gone from last year’s offensive line. Dozier projects as a guard in the NFL, who could kick out to tackle if necessary. He’d be a good run blocker for Jamaal Charles to have.

88. Cincinnati – Christian Jones, LB, Florida State    6’3’’  240
James Harrison’s one season as a Bengal wasn’t a very impactful one, and as a result he was released. At this stage of their careers, Jones is a significant athletic upgrade over Harrison and may be a better pass rusher now as well.

89. San Diego – DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State    6’4’’  322
The loss of Cam Thomas leaves the Chargers with very few proven options in the middle of the defensive line. Jones has shown he is a capable run stopper and embraces taking on multiple blockers, so he could help fill that void.

90. Indianapolis – Brock Vereen, S/CB, Minnesota    6’0’’  199
When the free agent safety carousel stopped, the Colts were left without a replacement for the departed Antoine Bethea. Vereen has good speed and range for a safety, and could also provide some needed depth at corner as well.

91. New Orleans – Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State    5’8’’  173
In three seasons with the Saints, Darren Sproles was a key part of the passing game averaging 77.3 receptions per year. Archer has blazing speed and could fill the Sproles role of a receiving scat back and explosive punt returner.

92. Carolina – Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida    6’0’’  191
Captain Munnerlyn was allowed to walk, and often ineffective Antoine Cason was brought in to help take his place. Roberson has shown promise as a pure cover corner, and would benefit from playing behind Carolina’s front seven.

93. New England – Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech    6’6’’  248
Tom Brady turns 37 this year and Ryan Mallett is in the final year of his rookie contract. Thomas needs refinement, but he has all of the physical tools wanted in a quarterback and would be well served being groomed behind Brady.

94. San Francisco – Dion Bailey, SS, Southern California    6’0’’  201
Antoine Bethea was brought in to replace Donte Whitner, but the 49ers have the luxury of being able to add depth. Bailey is still learning the position (former linebacker), but shows promising ball skills (9 INT in the last two years).

95. Denver – Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State    6’6’’  309
The departure of Zane Beadles necessitated some shifting around of the Broncos’ offensive line. Mewhort, a solid pass blocker, could fill Orlando Franklin’s old right tackle position or at least provide key depth with his versatility.

96. Minnesota – Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor    6’5’’  329
Charlie Johnson was ultimately re-signed, but after a couple of subpar seasons at left guard he may be better suited as a reserve. Richardson is a powerful lineman who could open up some holes for Vikings MVP Adrian Peterson

97. Pittsburgh – Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State    6’0’’  303
Ziggy Hood left after a forgettable run in Pittsburgh, and Brett Keisel isn’t a guarantee to be brought back. Sutton had a down year in 2013, but has shown an ability to get into opposing backfields and could help the pass rush.

98. Green Bay – Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford    6’2’’  245
Brad Jones did nothing to distinguish himself as a starter last year, and there is not a ton of depth at the position. Skov’s lack of raw athleticism necessitates playing in a 3-4, but his instincts and hustle should lead to productivity.

99. Baltimore – Jarvis Landry, WR, Louisiana State    5’11’’  205
The addition of 35-year-old Steve Smith helps, but the Ravens may still add younger talent to the position. Landry would help bring some of the toughness and reliability at receiver Baltimore never replaced from Anquan Boldin.

100. San Francisco – Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington    5’9’’  209
Anthony Dixon is gone, LaMichael James could be next, and Kendall Hunter is entering a contract year. Sankey is slightly undersized, but is a solid all-around runner who can also be a factor catching passes out of the backfield.