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2014 Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings and Projections

Draft Strategy and Advice

Waiver Wire Tips

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Jim Mora Sr.
It's that time of year again for fantasy drafts and making or missing the fantasy playoffs can often hinge on having a clearly-defined strategy lined up in advance. In years past the tried-and-true approach was to stock up on running backs early before drafting other positions but does this approach still work in today's pass-happy NFL where many teams employ a RB committee?

While QBs now lead most fantasy leagues in point production by a wide margin, the gap between the top tier of QBs and WRs and the next tier is normally not as great as that among RBs, an argument in favor of grabbing one or more of the few remaining workhorse backs early. Indeed, last year in NFL.com fantasy leagues the difference in the average points produced by the top 5 RBs and the next tier (6-10) was a whopping 24%. The difference among those tiers was only 11% for WRs and 17% for QBs (it's worth noting that the latter percentage was inflated by the performance of two players: Manning and Brees).

There's sadly not a lot of research that's been done on the subject but one article by Prof. Jeffrey Ohlmann of the University of Iowa found that predicting the draft strategies of opposing team owners to predict which players would be available resulted in superior draft results. While most of us aren't mind readers and may not have a clue which players will go quickly in a draft, you can bring a cheat sheet with rankings at each position, divide them into tiers and base your picks on the quality of players available when your number comes up. If you use this strategy, you can ensure you won't reach for a player when the other owners are making a run on a position (e.g. if the other owners are making a run on RBs and you're faced with choosing between a top 5 QB or a third tier RB, you roll with the QB).

Papa Chakravarthy's article on Optimizing Draft Strategies in Fantasy Football seems to confirm this approach. He found that owners who adopt what he calls a "value-based focus" and draft players in the top tier at each position had a higher chance of winning their fantasy leagues. Whether you adopt a value-based strategy or stick with the tried-and-true approach of RBs first the proof is in the pudding as they say so don't be afraid to try different strategies and compare your results!
Pretty Woman
No we haven't lost our focus! This really IS about fantasy football! As everyone knows, the winner in a fantasy league isn't always the owner who drafts best. Sometimes it's the one who fell asleep on the couch on draft day and ended up with a line-up of scrubs but made all the right calls in-season on which players to pick up. So are you a pick-up artist or do you get beaten to the punch by more aggressive owners who seem to identify up-and-coming stars before you do?

It's human nature to keep a high-profile veteran in your line-up too long hoping he'll return to last year's form but at what point are you better off dropping him to add an ascending talent? Sam Waters of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective points out a common error many fantasy owners make: basing their estimate of a player's value on what they did last season as opposed to what they've done recently. Clearly, you're not going to drop a prized first round pick after a few weeks of underperformance but if you have a fringe starter who's not living up to expectations the price of dropping him and picking up a rising player isn't that steep. So how do you know whether a player's "broken out" or has just had a flukey performance or two?

There are no set answers for that question but a few things to consider are:
  • Is the player getting starting reps?
  • How good were the defenses he performed against?
  • If he's a RB, is there a trend of increased rushing attempts?
    If he's a WR, is there a trend of increased targets or catches?
  • Does he have good match-ups going forward?
There's no sure-fire way to predict future performance but a good strategy is to reserve a portion of your bench for weekly waiver-wire pick-ups.

It's worth remembering that a team made up of a mix of stud starters without much depth still has a greater chance of making the fantasy playoffs than one composed across the board of mediocre players, since most leagues don't award points to your bench unless the game ends in a tie.

So don't be afraid to be a pick-up artist and take a few chances throughout the season to upgrade your line-up!
photo of Johnny Manziel
Photo of Johnny Manziel © Matt Velasquez
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Ranking the top fantasy rookies is as much if not more about opportunity than raw talent. A rookie can have all the skill in the world but if he's stuck behind an experienced veteran it may not result in fantasy production. We rank the incoming rookies at each position, along with the rationale for our ranking and our draft day advice:

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Photo of Peyton Manning & Zane Beadles © Jeffrey Beall
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  1. Johnny Manziel
  2. Teddy Bridgewater
  3. Derek Carr
  4. Tom Savage
  5. Blake Bortles

Running Backs
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Photo of Marshawn Lynch © Matt McGee
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  1. Bishop Sankey
  2. Jeremy Hill
  3. Devonta Freeman
  4. Carlos Hyde
  5. Storm Johnson
  6. Charles Sims

Wide Receivers
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Photo of Greg Little © Erik Drost
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  1. Mike Evans
  2. Kelvin Benjamin
  3. Sammy Watkins
  4. Cody Latimer
  5. Martavis Bryant

Tight Ends
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Photo of Tyler Eifert © Navin75
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  1. Eric Ebron
  2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins
  3. Richard Rodgers Jr.
  4. Jace Amaro
  5. Troy Niklas