Fantasy Football: Maggio's top-5 battles, busts and sleeper candidates
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Editor's note: Welcome to the first installment of a weekly fantasy football column. Anthony Maggio and Bo Mitchell will be with you all season to give you the edge you need to win your fantasy league. Visit 1500espn.com each Wednesday for a new column.
Top 5 Position Battles
Fantasy draft season is upon us, which means we've got some battles to sort out. Here are the top five battles based on potential fantasy impact.
St. Louis Rams RB: There's really no question as to who the starter is here; the battle instead is over workload. And considering Zac Stacy's ESPN ADP is 18th overall and 10th at running back, most folks believe a vast majority of the carries will belong to Stacy. I'm confident that's the case, but not ready to write it in ink yet. I was off, as were most, on Stacy going into last season. I would prefer not to misread this St. Louis situation again. Thus far the Rams are making rookie Tre Mason sing for his supper, listing him fourth on the depth chart and putting him behind the third-team offensive line in their preseason opener against New Orleans. Mason got a long look with 15 touches but found little room to run until late. Stacy looked good in limited work. I've no doubt that Mason will quickly pass Isaiah Pead (who sat out against New Orleans) and Benny Cunningham to grab the No. 2 spot behind Stacy. But he'll have to show a little more in the coming weeks to eat into Stacy's carries by the time Week 1 rolls around. My best guess for now is that Stacy is a 20+ carry guy for at least the first month, with Mason developing into a lightning to Stacy's thunder if he can hack it in pass protection.
Cleveland Browns RB: While the quarterback battle in Cleveland gets far more pub, it's the running back battle that fantasy players need to be watching. Rookie Terrance West is getting enough buzz to make him worthy of keeping an eye on despite the Browns giving Ben Tate a two-year, $6.2 million contract this offseason to be their starter. Tate's got a bit of an injury history and managed to fumble (but recover) in his preseason debut against Detroit, but to this point nothing I've seen or read would indicate that Tate's in imminent danger of losing his bell-cow role. I do believe Cleveland will run enough this year to make West relevant even as the No. 2, and at worst he's an important handcuff.
New York Jets QB: I'm hardly what you'd call a Geno Smith fan, but it's easy to forget through the 21 interceptions and five fumbles last year that he also tied Cam Newton for the most quarterback rushing scores with six. Heck, he had five games that I'd even call "fantasy usable" at worst. High praise, I know. That said, despite Michael Vick's advancing age, I'd actually feel better about him as a deep-league option and be slightly higher on Eric Decker if Vick got the job, but Smith's going to have to lose it this preseason in order for that to happen. That said, perhaps with Vick as a mentor, another year under Smith's belt, and an improved receiving corps, Smith might turn out to be a reasonable bye-week fill-in. Smith hasn't lost the job so far, but we'll see what the next two weeks bring.
Indianapolis Colts RB: Ahmad Bradshaw missed the preseason opener against the Jets-and still looked better than Trent Richardson. There's certainly a scenario here where Richardson is bad, wins the job anyway, and is fantasy relevant as a product of Indy's offense setting him up with short-yardage scoring chances. But Bradshaw looked good the first two weeks last season before succumbing to a neck injury, and by virtue of Richardson's struggles after being traded away by Cleveland, finds himself eyeing up a starting job this season. Bradshaw won't be submitted to contact in practice prior to the regular season, but will likely see time in at least one preseason game. So for now this is Richardson's job to lose rather than Bradshaw's to win, but its absolutely worth keeping an eye on with Bradshaw as the 64th running back off the board in ESPN's ADP.
Oakland Raiders RB: There isn't a fantasy stud to be had in the Oakland Raiders backfield, and if I'm being honest a lot of things have to break right for there to even be something useful there. Yes, Rashad Jennings managed some lemonade from those lemons the second half of last season, but he's showing signs of being a more than capable NFL running back. It's been some time since you could say the same about Maurice Jones-Drew or Darren McFadden, who are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the depth chart. Oakland's awful offensive line from a year ago arguably got worse, and now there are two mouths to feed. Best-case scenario here is that the line plays better than it looks on paper and one of the aforementioned backs looks night-and-day better than the other. We'll likely have to settle for one of them just getting hurt and being unavailable, but that could be enough for some fantasy relevancy for the other--assuming that one doesn't get hurt, too.
QB: Call me a homer, but Jay Cutler's my guy. Sure, his per-game numbers weren't special last season, but you've got to consider the Washington game in which he left injured in the first half plus the Detroit game where he was left in when everyone but Marc Trestman could see he was battered. He's got the best 1-2 punch at wide receiver in the game, a more than competent tight end with a mean streak, and one of the league's best pass-catching backs at his disposal. Yes, the quarterback position is deep this year, but Cutler at No. 15 in ADP? You all have fun owning Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. I'll actually be surprised if Cutler's not a top-10 fantasy QB by season's end assuming health.
RB: After his long touchdown run against the Steelers on Saturday I think more people are going to start to take notice, but Rashad Jennings' ADP of 24 at RB is criminal. Go ahead and like rookie Andre Williams and retread Peyton Hillis all you want, this is still a legit three-down back who proved himself under tough circumstances last season and was rewarded with a four-year, $10 million deal. If you go WR/QB early in drafts, Jennings will serve you well as your No. 1 RB.
WR: Weird to think a guy with six 1,000-yard seasons under his belt could be undervalued, but sure enough, there's Roddy White being taken 19th among wide receivers. White missed time for the first time in his 9-year career last season, with those three games plus his limitations upon return and a brutal offensive line conspired for a forgettable 2013 campaign. But White's healthy, the line should be better with the additions of Jake Matthews and Jon Asamoah, and Tony Gonzalez's retirement leaves a lot of balls to be caught. Harry Douglas and Levine Toilolo will certainly take their share, but White even more than Julio Jones should benefit from additional over-the-middle work.
TE: Dwayne Allen is being taken seven spots behind his own backup in fantasy drafts right now. Seriously folks? No. 23 at the position? Allen had a promising rookie season in 2012 and was poised for a breakout last season before a hip injury ended his campaign one 20-yard touchdown pass after it began. Now he's back in an offense that features the tight end prominently. Allen's basically going undrafted, so feel free to wait on tight ends and grab Allen with your last pick. You can thank me later.
QB: Not trying to be a hater here, but Johnny Manziel at No. 16 in QB ADP would be too high if Josh Gordon hadn't been and wasn't going to be suspended for at least half the season. Oh, and that's also assuming John Football is your starter in Cleveland. I'll pass.
RB: Don't like repeating myself, but I'm going to bring up Trent Richardson again. Did no one watch him play last season? I get that with Bradshaw still not in preseason action there's little else for anyone to see, but that doesn't mean Richardson should be the 21st running back off the board. Or if he must be, just make sure it's someone else in your league taking him that high. You can thank them later.
WR: I understand the propensity to be drawn to the bright and shiny new toy, but in the case of Sammy Watkins I think you're best served to let someone else play with him first. That sounds dirty, but frankly I'd feel unclean taking him as the 28th receiver off the board. The guy's got talent, but his quarterback has yet to prove he can have nice things.
TE: Is it a copout to take Coby Fleener here since I all but did so by choosing Dwayne Allen as my sleeper? Well too bad, because I just want you all to know not to draft Coby Fleener. Guys like Charles Clay, Ladarius Green, Delanie Walker and Tyler Eifert should all be going ahead of him.
Anthony Maggio and Bo Mitchell host the 1500ESPN Fantasy Football Pants Party podcast. Bookmark the podcast page for upcoming episodes and subscribe to the podcast now! Seriously, do it. We'll wait.
Maggio hosted Fantasy Football Sunday on 1500ESPN from 2012-2013 and is the Fantasy Football Editor at Zoneblitz.com. Mitchell is Vice President of Content for SportsData LLC and leads the writing team at Vikings Journal. Both men are kind of a big deal. If you'd like to print out their cheat sheets to take with you to your draft or the restroom, you'll find them regularly updated at Zoneblitz.com.
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