Fantasy Football: Must Own Players

Jordy Nelson
Jordy Nelson

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Social media, Twitter in particular, has been a big part of making fantasy football one of the most popular games there is today. In addition to Twitter, the ease of being able to share one’s thoughts and ideas on the internet through blogs has really made fantasy an enjoyable yearlong event to be apart of. The fantasy community is one of the best at sharing its ideas, even if those ideas can sometimes help the competition.

If you’ve got the right group of guys that you follow on Twitter, and the right group of websites that you regularly check, chances are you will succeed in your league. The only problem with following so many people who freely share their ideas and opinions is that you are prone to getting information overload.

Let’s use sleepers and breakout players as an example. The fact of the matter is that in standard redraft leagues, you’re only allowed to draft 15 total players, including a defense and kicker. This gives you 13 slots to fill your roster with guys that you think are going to win you a championship. How are you supposed to sort out all the evaluation and analysis of sleepers and breakout players when you can only draft a few of them?

To be honest, the idea of this article was not my own. When I started playing fantasy football eight years ago, ESPN was a site that I used religiously to do my fantasy research. I still use them often because I think their writers are knowledgeable and present their information in an easy to digest manner. Chris Harris was one of my favorite analysts, and he had a column every year in which he “planted flags” on guys that he wanted on all of his fantasy teams. The point was to sift through all the information coming to fantasy owners and present a final list of guys that he felt were legitimate breakout players for the upcoming year.

I intend to do the same with this article. The following are guys with various ADPs that I want on all my fantasy football teams in 2014.

1. Jordy Nelson

Nelson totaled 49 receptions for 810 yards and seven touchdowns in the eight games that Aaron Rodgers was healthy. If you extrapolate that over a 16-game season, you end up with 98 receptions, 1,620 yards and 14 touchdowns, which would have been good enough for a No. 1 overall finish at wide receiver last year. Even with Rodgers hurt for half the year, Nelson was able to finish as a top 15 wide receiver — though to be fair, his production did drop significantly when Rodgers got hurt. The fact is, though, Nelson has been remarkably consistent over the past three years, as he has totaled 30 receiving touchdowns and amassed at least 1,000 yards in each of those seasons. The only other player in the NFL to put up those types of numbers? Calvin Johnson.

If you’re worried about Randall Cobb taking targets away, don’t be. In the six games Cobb played in last year, Nelson still averaged 7.7 targets per game. When Cobb was out, he averaged about half a reception more (8.1), which isn’t significant. The only thing that will keep Nelson out of a top six finish this year is if he or Rodgers get hurt. If both are healthy, his late second/early third round ADP is highway robbery. Nelson is the type of player that will bring you a championship.

Montee Ball

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2. Montee Ball

If Knowshon Moreno was able to have a top five fantasy season last year, there’s no reason why Ball can’t at least replicate that in 2014. Moreno was the superior pass protector compared to the rest of the backfield, which allowed him to be the bell cow in a high octane offense led by Peyton Manning. This year, with Moreno gone, Ball becomes the beneficiary of running into defenses that are afraid of playing anymore than five or six guys in the box because of Manning. Yes, the Broncos will play the NFC West four times this year, but two of the defenses, San Francisco and Arizona, are missing key run stopping guys that make those matchups far less unappealing.

There seems to be a lot of people with misguided worry regarding Ball’s ball security. While he fumbled twice in just 33 touches to start the season, he only had one fumble in his last 14o. In fact, to prove that the butterfingers he displayed in 2013 were somewhat fluky, his first fumble at Wisconsin was on his 803rd career touch. Don’t let last year’s fumbles scare you away from a guy who is almost guaranteed 300 touches in the league’s best offense. I’m taking this guy early in the middle of the first round ahead of guys like DeMarco Murray and teammate Demaryius Thomas. A top five season isn’t out of the question.

Matt Ryan

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3. Matt Ryan

Ryan had one of his worst seasons as a pro last year when his wide receivers were decimated by injuries, and his offensive line struggled to pass protect. Even in such a down year he managed to finish as the 14th best quarterback in fantasy. Because of his struggles, he’s currently being drafted as the seventh quarterback per FFCalculator, a spot which he is more than capable of outperforming. In the games that Julio Jones played in last year, Ryan averaged more than 22 fantasy points per game. That’s when Roddy White wasn’t healthy either.

Even with Tony Gonzalez retiring, I think Ryan’s going to have a monster season. Running back Steven Jackson is already dealing with injuries, so the offense is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Ryan. He’s showed he’s able to handle that pressure, and with a full set of healthy weapons, not many quarterbacks have the value that Ryan provides.

Roddy White

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4. Roddy White

If I listed Ryan as one of my must-own players, I’ve got to include one of his wide receivers, right? A case can be made for Julio Jones, the WR lined up across from White, but as he’s going in the top 15 picks, I figured I’d go with a guy who provides tremendous value. White was hampered by both ankle and hamstring injuries at the beginning of last season. It was obvious that even though he was on the field, he wasn’t his normal self.

If you look at the last five weeks of the season, White was able to put the injuries behind him and return to the reliable WR that we had come to expect. Between Weeks 13 and 17, White posted 61 fantasy points, which was good enough for a top 10 rank during that span. The loss of Tony Gonzalez means someone is going to have to pick up the slack, which White, Jones and Co. can easily accomplish. The Falcons also upgraded their offensive line, which will allow Ryan more time to sit in the pocket and pick defenses apart the way did prior to last year.

Dennis Pitta

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5. Dennis Pitta

When Pitta broke his hip last off-season, all it did was delay his breakout campaign for another year.

Before he got hurt, Pitta had posted career highs in each significant offensive statistic, including 169 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs. The Ravens really missed Pitta last season, as QB Joe Flacco took major steps backward after their Super Bowl victory.

This season, Pitta is fully healthy, and the Ravens hired a new OC in Gary Kubiak, who has historically employed an offense that is very fantasy-friendly to tight ends. Just ask Owen Daniels. While some may be concerned with the aforementioned Daniels joining Pitta in Baltimore this year, I wouldn’t worry. Daniels is 31 this year and has missed a total of 26 games over the past five seasons. His role as an offensive playmaker have diminished, which means that Pitta is primed to take over the coveted primary tight end in Kubiak’s offense. To me, Pitta is one of the best tight ends to grab once guys like Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski are off the board. Don’t be surprised if Pitta winds up leading the Ravens in receptions this year.

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