The 2014 regular season is just around the corner, and that means the 2014 fantasy football season is here, too. While it is "fantasy" football, we can still take real football knowledge and apply it to our fantasy teams. In an attempt to do just that, here's a Fantasy Football edition of our weekly Mailbag feature.
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Rank the big three running backs: Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy -- David M. @Davygoesbananas
Peterson, McCoy, Charles is how I have them stacked. We're splitting hairs here – if you wind up with any of these three as your RB1, you're in good shape. I lean toward Peterson because aside from the fact he's never had fewer than 10 touchdowns in a season and has had just one season of fewer than 1,200 yards rushing, he now has Norv Turner calling plays for him. Turner has had the NFL's leading rusher five times, and I think it'll be a sixth time after the 2014 season. Plus, Turner seems committed to getting Peterson more involved in the passing game, which will help those of you in point per reception (PPR) leagues.
Offensive line woes for Charles cause me to put McCoy at No. 2, slightly ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs star.
What is your general philosophy in auction leagues? Spend big on a couple big players – say a quarterback and running back? Or spread it out? -- Alissa M. Hopkins, MN
It can vary from year-to-year, but this year my strategy would be to lay low on quarterbacks and target a couple of values in the $1-$4 range. Quarterbacks going in that range in most leagues include Tom Brady (yes, he's going that low), Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo; I've even seen Russell Wilson going for as low as $3. Since you can get a quarterback with that production level at such a low price, I would pass on the top tier guys and get some value because that will free up your bank roll to go get one of the top three running backs (Peterson, McCoy, Charles) as well as either a second top-tier running back or a receiver in the low-to-mid $30 range. After that, I would focus on adding depth at running back (mid-to-high $20 range) and then tagging a few receivers in the $6-$9 range, a group that in most leagues includes Julian Edelman, TY Hilton, Cordarrelle Patterson and Emmanuel Sanders. Leave kicker and defense until the very end, and don't spend more than $2 on either.
Where is the cutoff line from the first tier of quarterbacks to the rest of the field? -- Ron M. Detroit Lakes, MN
In most leagues, the cutoff line for me is after the No. 3 quarterback. I have Peyton Manning atop my quarterback rankings, with Aaron Rodgers second and Drew Brees third. After that, there is a significant drop off to the second tier, and the drop off is big enough where I would pass on those quarterbacks and take the best running back available. Securing a solid RB1 should be a priority over securing the likes of Tom Brady, Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck or Matthew Stafford. It's nothing against those quarterbacks – they are solid choices and may very well have huge seasons. But there are more draftable quarterbacks in that group than there are RB1 candidates.
I'm in a PPR league and I can keep one player from last year's team at no cost. I can't decide between Jordy Nelson and Alfred Morris. What would you do? -- Adam M. Waconia, MN
I would keep Nelson. He is a bona fide WR1 and should be drafted no lower than where he was selected last year, whereas Morris could be argued as a RB1 but one can also argue that his fantasy value this year is down relative to last season. The Redskins added DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to their receiving corps and I think new head coach Jay Gruden is going to air it out with Robert Griffin III and those talented receivers, a group that also includes Pierre Garcon.
What can we expect from @ceeflashpee84 (Cordarrelle Patterson) in a PPR format league? I think I got a steal! #Flash -- Nick B. @nickbyrnegolf
Patterson is a common "breakout" player tout for many fantasy (and real) football analysts. If you want him, you're going to have to strike early – maybe as soon as the fourth round in some leagues. Patterson scored a touchdown in each of the final five games last season and in many leagues he led all receivers in fantasy points over the final four games of the season. When it comes to PPR leagues, I feel Patterson's value increases. He's not a guy who will run a bunch of go routes (low percentage). He'll be running a lot of high percentage routes – bubble screens, shallow crossers and comebacks.
Who are some mid-tier players at running back and wide receiver who jump up significantly in PPR formats? -- Luke M. Racine, WI
At running back, ESPN gives both Reggie Bush and CJ Spiller a two-position bump. To me, the running back who sees the biggest jump in PPR formats is Danny Woodhead in San Diego. In 2013, Woodhead had 76 receptions, an incredible number for a running back. I would also look at New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas as a nice PPR RB; he had 77 receptions last season and this season he won't have to share touches with Darren Sproles. For receivers, ESPN gives Kendall Wright a two-position bump in PPR formats, but I'd look to three others to highlight beneficiaries of this format: Patterson in Minnesota, Julian Edelman in New England and Pierre Garcon with the Redskins. Garcon led the NFL with 113 receptions last season, and even with the addition of DeSean Jackson I still see Garcon approaching the 100-catch threshold in 2014.
A Week 1 defense: Who would you take? -- Malone @Malonethe3rd
I'd take Chicago. They host the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. Now, the Bills have some dynamic weapons on offense, including running back CJ Spiller and receiver Sammy Watkins. Plus, quarterback EJ Manuel may be poised for a step forward in his second season. But I don't think that'll be enough to overcome a typically stingy Bears defense at home. Chicago added some pieces on defense – Jared Allen, LaMarr Houston and Willie Young, just to name a few. Plus, stalwarts Lance Briggs, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman remain and still have some gas left in the tank.
Take the Seattle DEF before taking a quarterback – bad idea? -- Pete S. @pschietz16
Yes, I think that's a bad idea in principle. Quarterback, in most leagues, has become an important position, and in many leagues has become the most important position, particularly if you can get one of the elite guys. Even if you don't get one of the elites and you wind up taking a second-tier passer, I would still take that over the No. 1 defense 10 times out of 10. The scoring different between QB1s and QB2s is more profound than the scoring defense between an elite defense and medium-tier defense.
What are your thoughts on running back Zac Stacy? What round should he go? -- Lucas H. @hoover_lucas
If you're one who believes Stacy will maintain his hold as the Rams feature back, I would advise you to take the route of finding two starting running backs early in your draft. Stacy's ceiling, in my view, is a RB2 in 2014. If you're high on Stacy, take one of the better backs in the first round, follow that up with Stacy in the second, and then move on to either a top-tier tight end or second-tier receiver in the third and fourth rounds before looking to snag a value quarterback in the middle (sixth-to-ninth) rounds.