2014 Fantasy Football Rankings: Updating the Top 25 Players Post Free Agency

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2014

2014 Fantasy Football Rankings: Updating the Top 25 Players Post Free Agency

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The fantasy football realm is a constantly shifting landscape, particularly during the offseason. With free agency cooled from the white-hot first week to the simmering market we have today, it's a good time to look at how the signings have affected the fantasy ranks.

    Click through to find the top 25 fantasy rankings as they stand since the frenzy of free agency has died down.

Where Have All the Quarterbacks Gone?

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    You will note there are no quarterbacks in the top 25 here. 

    Positional scarcity is a big factor when it comes to drafting a fantasy football team. If you play in a two-quarterback league, the position becomes far more valuable because there are typically 20 to 24 starters to worry about.

    In most leagues, however, there are 10 to 12. That means you're bound to grab a top QB without missing out on anyone significantly better than the rest.

    Now, quarterback Peyton Manning was a rare exception last year—he severely outscored everyone else. But to expect a season like that out of him or anyone else would be ludicrous. The difference between Andy Dalton and Tony Romo—the No. 3 and 12 fantasy scorers at quarterback—was just 41 points.

    There is simply too much parity at the position in terms of fantasy scoring without a clear sign that any one of the top quarterbacks will go supernova. It is far more valuable to stock up at receiver and running back—the two positions that comprise most of the top 25. Hence, quarterbacks were left off the list.

25. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Last year's breakout wide receiver heads into 2014 as a hot commodity in fantasy football.

    The big receiver emerged last season as a big-time weapon across from Brandon Marshall for the Chicago Bears. Jeffery wasn't far behind Marshall in fantasy scoring after catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns.

    More of the same should be in store for the third-year player out of South Carolina. He has clearly built a rapport with quarterback Jay Cutler, who trusted Jeffery with all manner of tough catches last season.

    Projection: 85 receptions, 1,250 yards, 7 touchdowns; 12 carries, 80 yards

24. Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Despite losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers for seven weeks last season, wide receiver Jordy Nelson had a fantastic season. He came in 11th in fantasy scoring at wide receiver, regaining some of that 2011 form that had him second to Calvin Johnson that year.

    Hopefully both Rodgers and Nelson can stay healthy this season. If they do, Nelson should be in for another top-15 year at his position.

    Projection: 85 receptions, 1,200 yards, 9 touchdowns

23. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have expressed interest in running back Maurice Jones-Drew this offseason, per Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News. Signing him would put a fantasy damper on the incumbent starter, Le'Veon Bell.

    There is no deal for now, however, and Bell retains his full value until further notice. 

    Hos pro career got off to a rocky start when he suffered what was initially reported as a dreaded Lisfranc foot injury. It wasn't as bad as feared, however, and he was able to rejoin the Steelers in Week 4.

    He proved immediately valuable, rushing for two touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings out in London. Despite missing those first three weeks, he amassed 1,259 total yards and eight touchdowns in 2013.

    Outside injury concerns—Bell was also concussed later in the season—a big red flag follows the second-year back. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie, which is a pitiful number. Were it not for his pass-catching ability, he would have never broached the top 25 here.

    Projection: 260 carries, 1,050 yards, 7 touchdowns; 40 receptions, 350 yards, 1 touchdown

22. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Le'Veon Bell's teammate—receiver Antonio Brownhas fast become a hot fantasy commodity.

    He was eighth in the league in fantasy scoring at the position last season—fifth in point-per-reception leagues—and he has become increasingly important in a passing offense that is now missing Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.

    Brown was targeted 165 times last season, and that number might go up next year.

    Projection: 105 receptions, 1,400 yards, 8 touchdowns; 5 carries, 30 yards

21. Ben Tate, RB, Cleveland Browns

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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    Running back Ben Tate might be the biggest winner of free agency, when it comes to fantasy stock anyway.

    He went from second fiddle in Houston to concertmaster in Cleveland, where he will perform for fantasy audiences everywhere. He will get the volume of work in Cleveland, which is valuable in and of itself.

    The 25-year-old actually had a down season in 2013, thanks in part to injuries and a woeful all-around offense. Before then, however, Tate looked like a feature back in the making as Arian Foster's understudy.

    Projection: 275 carries, 1,200 yards, 7 touchdowns; 40 receptions, 300 yards

20. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Running back Giovani Bernard was a revelation as a rookie as the most dynamic runner in the 2013 class. He was in the running for offensive rookie of the year until he fell off toward the end of the season.

    The Bengals were measured in their usage of the first-year back, being careful not to wear him out. That might not be the case in 2014.

    Marvin Lewis also said he envisions a second-year growth similar to Ray Rice from Gio Bernard. Says offseason big for growth.

    — Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) March 25, 2014

    Rice had a 200 percent increase in rushing yardage and an undefined increase in touchdowns because he didn't score any as a rookie.

    Bernard might not be in for such a massive increase—you know, considering that would mean a 2,000-yard season that breaks the laws of mathematics in touchdowns—but it looks like the Bengals might be taking the restraining bolt off the back that fantasy owners might be looking for.

    Projection: 220 carries, 1,000 yards, 7 touchdowns; 60 receptions, 550 yards, 2 touchdowns

19. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images

    A great rookie season gave way to a sophomore slump that culminated in a season-ending injury for Doug Martin.

    The third-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back was second in fantasy scoring to Adrian Peterson's historic season in 2012, but he scored less than 58 points in six games before going down for the count.

    To add insult to injury, journeyman Bobby Rainey and rookie Mike James both had huge games after Martin went down.

    He will be back with a vengeance this season. The Buccaneers had a solid offensive line last season, and it improved on paper in free agency when they signed Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith. It will be interesting to see how the new coaching staff will utilize him, but he figures to be the starter and main man at this point.

    Projection: 275 carries, 1,100 yards, 7 touchdowns; 40 receptions, 350 yards, 1 touchdown

18. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Zac Stacy was an unexpected boon last season, both for the St. Louis Rams and fantasy owners.

    The fifth-round rookie started slow, as he was buried on the depth chart behind Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. He got one carry for four yards in Week 1 and then didn't resurface until Week 5. He was given an opportunity to start, and he never let go of the bull.

    Stacy wound up 17th in fantasy scoring despite that slow start and playing in an anemic offense. About the only thing not to like is the fact he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry.

    The sophomore back should hang onto that starting job this season, making him a solid fantasy option.

    Projection: 285 carries, 1,200 yards, 7 touchdowns; 30 receptions, 325 yards, 1 touchdown

17. Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    It's out with the old and in with the new in Denver, or so it seems.

    Last season's leading team rusher, Knowshon Moreno, has not been retained by the Broncos. That may change—Moreno is still hunting a contract on the free-agent market—but it seems that second-year, former second-round pick Montee Ball will carry the load in 2014. 

    He told Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:

    It was a very unfortunate situation for us, obviously, in the Super Bowl, but it gave us a lot to work for. We understand how much it took to get there, and for me as a rookie, it was great to be a part of the process leading up to the Super Bowl, because I truly understand what it takes. And I'm going to play a huge role in next year's success, and I'm really looking forward to it.

    Should he ascend to starter in that offense, Bell will have quite the ceiling in fantasy football. After all, Moreno was unexpectedly the fifth-best fantasy back last season.

    Projection: 245 carries, 1,100 yards, 7 touchdowns; 45 receptions, 400 yards, 2 touchdowns

16. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Injuries have been a problem for DeMarco Murray and his fantasy owners since he came into the league.

    The fourth-year Cowboys back has yet to see a full season, though the 14 games he played last year were a career high. Relative health was a reason why he set career highs in total yardage (1,471) and touchdowns (10), too.

    Injuries are impossible to predict, however, and he showed plenty of fantasy potential last season. Even accounting for a couple of missed games, Murray will be highly valuable because there are no serious threats to his playing time.

    Projection: 240 carries, 1,200 yards, 7 touchdowns; 45 receptions, 325 yards, 1 touchdown

15. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    For all the criticism that Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant gets, he performs on the field—even when he's hurt.

    He took some nasty spills last season, panicking fantasy owners on a couple of occasions. He managed to get through all 16 games despite injuries to his foot, hamstring and particularly his back.

    Hopefully Bryant is over the back issue. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn't seem to be worried:

    Jerry Jones said he's got no concerns about Dez Bryant's back and he hasn't seen a specialist.

    — Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 25, 2014

    Injuries aside, he may be in store for an increase in usage. The Cowboys brought in Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator, and all he did was have Matthew Stafford throw the ball 2,024 times over the past three seasons.

    That's not an exaggeration.

    Projection: 95 receptions, 1,350 yards, 9 touchdowns

14. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Peyton Manning is still the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. What more needs to be said about wide receiver Demaryius Thomas?

    Despite the wealth of weapons in Denver, Thomas garnered the most targets in 2013 with 143. He wound up with the second-most fantasy points at wide receiver.

    It's silly to think Manning will repeat his historic season, but Thomas has remained his favorite target over the past couple of seasons. Even if Manning falls off significantly, Thomas shouldn't take a terrible statistical hit.

    Projection: 105 receptions, 1,300 yards, 10 touchdowns

13. Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Another year, another 1,000-yard and top-10 fantasy season at the position for Brandon Marshall.

    Well, at least as a non-Dolphin. Marshall has scored in the top 10 at wide receiver every year that he wasn't in Miami. That includes a No. 2 and No. 5 finish in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

    He remains quarterback Jay Cutler's favorite target, even with Alshon Jeffery breaking out last season. That should make him another lock for the top 10, assuming he stays on the field all year.

    Projection: 95 receptions, 1,350 yards, 12 touchdowns

12. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Last season was supposed to be a breakout year for Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones. Instead, a broken foot caused heartbreak throughout the fantasy realm.

    Andrew Gribble of AL.com writes Jones should be ready to rumble at the beginning of 2014:

    "He had 41 catches, on pace to have one of the all-time receiver years in the history of the NFL," [Falcons head coach Mike] Smith said Thursday at the NFL Combine. "I saw both of them on Monday in the training room. They're working hard. 

    "Our focus is going to be not to get them back as quickly as we can. Our focus is to make sure they're going to be ready to go in September. That will be our No. 1 goal."

    Jones broke his foot during the Falcons' Monday night loss in October to the New York Jets. He reportedly broke the screw that was placed in his foot during a surgery performed shortly after his Alabama career came to a close. 

    If he can stay healthy and resume his 2013 pace—that was 131 catches for 1,856 yards last season—and increase his touchdown total, Jones is in for a monster season.

    Projection: 90 receptions, 1,400 yards, 12 touchdowns

11. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    It must have been nice for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to finally have a good running back in Green Bay.

    Eddie Lacy ran off with offensive rookie of the year honors last year after posting 1,435 total yards and 11 touchdowns for the Packers. Mike McCarthy stuck with the run—sometimes to a maddening fault—and Lacy delivered for his fantasy owners.

    He doesn't have any serious competition for playing time in the backfield. The Packers did bring back James Starks, but he was the obvious backup. That doesn't figure to change.

    With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, opposing defenses are going to have to stay honest. It should be another nice year for Lacy and his fantasy owners.

    Projection: 270 carries, 1,250 yards, 8 touchdowns; 30 receptions, 275 yards, 1 touchdown

10. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has a rather simple game plan—throw the ball to receiver A.J. Green and score points.

    Green was targeted 180 times last season, third-most in the league and just four behind league leader Pierre Garcon. He scored far more fantasy points than the two above him—Andre Johnson was No. 2—thanks to 11 touchdowns.

    There is every reason to think a similar pattern will continue in 2013, even with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden gone and Hue Jackson in his place. 

    Projection: 100 receptions, 1,600 yards, 10 touchdowns

9. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Wide receiver Josh Gordon led all wide receivers in fantasy scoring last season. That was after a two-game suspension to start the year and with the Three Amigos juggling the quarterback position.

    Two of the three are gone, and Brian Hoyer is rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered after looking like the most promising of the bunch. While Gordon's quarterback prospects might not be any better right now, his talent is transcendent.

    Hopefully the Browns get him some help at receiver, but Gordon is in line for another big season if he can stay clean off the field in his third year.

    Projection: 90 receptions, 1,550 yards, 9 touchdowns; 10 carries, 120 yards

8. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Redemption calls Arian Foster's name.

    The talented running back had quite the off-year for the Texans in 2013—an injury-filled microcosm for Houston's season.

    We can't know if he will have injury issues this season, but at least he has the backfield to himself for the moment. Ben Tate is gone, taking flight to Cleveland as the Browns' new starter. 

    There is a new sheriff in town, but head coach Bill O'Brien should quickly see the value in riding Foster, especially if the team will be relying on a rookie quarterback. 

    He might not rise to previous heights, but Foster could be in for a bounce back into the top 10 at his position.

    Projection: 315 carries, 1,300 yards, 9 touchdowns; 35 receptions, 250 yards, 1 touchdown

7. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    The Chicago Bears were headed for an offensive renaissance last year after hiring offensive-minded head coach Marc Trestman. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary was Matt Forte, who finally lived up to perennial top billing in the fantasy football realm.

    Forte wound up third in fantasy scoring after his big year.

    He could be in store for an even bigger year if the running back situation stands. The Bears released goal-line back Michael Bush, per NFL.com's Kevin Patra, leaving Michael Ford to back Forte up. While Ford could reprise Bush's role as touchdown vulture, Forte could still see more action at the goal line than he has in past seasons.

    Projection: 275 carries, 1,250 yards, 8 touchdowns—55 receptions, 525 yards, 1 touchdown

6. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    It's a good thing fantasy points aren't awarded for every goal-post dunk.

    Tight end Jimmy Graham won't be doing that this season—at least if he doesn't want to get penalized, thanks to the latest No Fun League "no dunking" addition, per CBSSports.com's Will Brinson—but that won't keep him out of the end zone.

    Graham is ranked so highly here—the only tight end, as you may have noticed—because drafting him can give his fantasy owner an unfair advantage at tight end. The only other tight end who can match his production is New England's Rob Gronkowski, who has been hammered by injuries over the past year.

    Nobody else comes close, and that makes Graham a valuable commodity.

    Of course, that could be problematic if he falls off or gets injured, but that is the risk to the reward—a massive scoring advantage at a single position. 

    Projection: 80 receptions, 1,400 yards, 12 touchdowns

5. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Is Calvin Johnson on the decline?

    The massive receiver had a down season—relative to the standards he created, at any rate—while nagged by injuries in 2013. He still managed to wind up third in fantasy scoring, despite missing two games and having a bull's-eye on his back yet again.

    He finally gets some relief this year in the form of fellow receiver Golden Tate, who inked a five-year, $31 million deal to become "Megatron's" sidekick. As a side note, does that mean Tate is now "Starscream"?

    At any rate, Johnson shouldn't see much of a dip in targets, just a little respite from opposing defenses, who will have to worry about Tate and a good one-two punch at running back to boot.

    Projection: 95 receptions, 1,600 yards, 12 touchdowns

4. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    What can we say about running back Marshawn Lynch?

    After breaking through with the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, he has been quite the consistent fantasy performer. "Beast Mode" has wound up fifth, fourth and fourth in fantasy scoring in each of the past three seasons, respectively.

    With the Seahawks riding high in their current offensive system and little real challenge from backup Robert Turbin for major playing time, there is no reason to think Lynch will fall off.

    Projection: 305 carries, 1,300 yards, 10 touchdowns; 35 receptions, 275 yards, 1 touchdown

3. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Running back LeSean McCoy is a joy to watch. 

    "The Human Joystick" bounced back—and forth and all over the field—last season to have a monster year, helping those who lucked out or wisely took him high in fantasy drafts. He went off for 2,146 total yards and 11 touchdowns, a huge turnaround from his injury-marred 2012 campaign.

    This year should bring more of the same—the good stuff, hopefully, as opposed to the injury stuff— though McCoy might have a bit of his work offloaded to newly minted Eagle Darren Sproles

    Projection: 300 carries, 1,400 yards, 8 touchdowns; 50 receptions, 475 yards, 2 touchdowns

2. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    It used to be that top performers would stay the same for years. Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson each led the league in fantasy scoring at running back in consecutive seasons dating back to the year 2000.

    Not so nowadays. Tomlinson was the last to repeat, back in 2007.

    So it's a safe bet that last year's leader—Jamaal Charles—won't be donning the crown in 2014. It's also a safe bet he'll still contend for it.

    He led the league despite being "down" in efficiency—he averaged a mere 5.0 yards per carry, dragging his career average down to a demigodly 5.6. Heavy involvement in the passing game was a big reason why.

    With Alex Smith, the checkdown king, still at quarterback, Charles should see another heavy target count. Oh, and he's pretty good at running the ball, too.

    Projection: 275 carries, 1,450 yards, 8 touchdowns; 60 receptions, 550 yards, 3 touchdowns

1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    The king is back.

    Fantasy prognosticators spent all offseason debating whether Adrian Peterson could come close to matching his magical 2012 season. Historic seasons are difficult to repeat, as it turns out, and he was somewhat of a disappointment last year.

    "Purple Jesus" will come again this year, though. The cavalry is coming to help, and it comes in the form of offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

    Now, that name may not elicit much excitement, but Turner has been a great coordinator throughout his career. Just look at what he did with that Cleveland Browns offense, guiding quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell to a combined 4,000-yard season.

    There wasn't much to write home about at running back in Cleveland, but the Browns had nothing even remotely resembling Peterson in that backfield. 

    An improved offense means an improved fantasy season for Peterson, who is still looking to break Eric Dickerson's record. Projecting a record-breaking season would be insane, however, but a fine season is in store nonetheless.

    Projection: 320 carries, 1,600 yards, 13 touchdowns; 25 receptions, 250 yards, 1 touchdown

     

    All free-agent and cap information per Spotrac. All fantasy statistics and rankings courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).