by MIKE BLEWITT
So, we’re settling into the offseason. Wistful of Sundays spent glued to the television, tablets and smartphones for 10 hours at a clip – you know who you are, especially if you’re reading this. Our collective goal now is to trudge ahead towards the 2014 Fantasy draft season, but let’s do so with new information in hand; information about everybody’s favorite breakout players, the Fantasy rookies.
Over the next several weeks, we will give an overview of each relevant position and assess who can impact Fantasy rosters in a meaningful way in their first year in the league. We’ll even take a look at some defensive players for those who play in IDP (Individual Defensive Player) leagues. Clearly, projections and values can change depending on which teams draft these youngsters, but we will lay it out and see who has a chance to legitimately impact Fantasy football next season.
First up in our early rookie preview is the quarterback position. The 2013 season left a lot to be desired from the QBs, especially after such a strong showing in 2012 from Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson and even Nick Foles chipping in for half a season. This year’s eventual starting QB crop of EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon all produced uneven play. Smith was the only one of the three who finished in the Top 20 Fantasy QBs though Glennon played a little better down the stretch.
So, let’s look at the latest crop; the guys under center who could lead their Fantasy (and real) franchises to the promised land of the playoffs. We will look at those who we feel could impact the Fantasy landscape in the 2014 season, but we acknowledge that there can always be a late bloomer who breaks out in subsequent seasons a la Colin Kaepernick. Plus, we will update our readers throughout the NFL and Fantasy draft processes to make sure you have the best insight on the current set of factors for these players.
“Johnny Football” is working on his image full-time during the draft process. Photo Credit: RotoExperts Archives
Johnny Manziel (Texas A & M)
Johnny Football… it sums up a lot in two words. Certainly a polarizing individual, Manziel tore up the NCAA in his two years at the helm of the A&M Aggies, snagging the 2012 Heisman Award in the process. He put up so many memorable performances that it even had esteemed, irascible Alabama head coach Nick Sabangushing about Manziel, calling him “the best competitor (he’s) seen in over 40 years of coaching.” He led the FBS in total offense over the last two seasons and finished 2013 in the Top 10 in passing efficiency, total offense, passing yards, passing TDs and completion percentage. For all of the sideshow antics that dogged Manziel, the tape simply doesn’t lie.
About that sideshow, Manziel will pay the price. Of the NFL teams interested in a QB, some may have preconceived notions to scratch him off of their draft board. The teams who DO consider him will try to find out in any which way they can if all of the brashness and bluster was party-boy immaturity about to enter the rearview mirror or signs of a spoiled brat who can’t be rigorously coached. All of this before the experts pick away at his less than ideal 6’1” stature. I’m of the opinion that he could be worth the risk – his ability to make plays inside and out of the pocket are not a product of a gimmicky collegiate offense. Barring some genuine hiccups during the draft process, Manziel will be starting in Week 1 in 2014. Whether it’s the Texans, Browns or someone else it remains to be seen but my money would be on Houston… at least this week. Consider him a lock to come off the board quick (Top Five) in dynasty leagues and a reasonable mid-to-late round flyer as a backup QB in one-year leagues.
Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville)
Going into the 2013 college season, the 6’3” Bridgewater seemed to be the leader of the pack amongst the QB prospects. He led Louisville to a 12-1 record, but their upset at the hands of Central Florida – and fellow prospect Blake Bortles – cost the Cardinals an undefeated season, a BCS bowl bid and a lot more exposure for Bridgewater.
This past season, he led the NCAA with a 71 percent completion percentage, was Top Five in passing efficiency (second year in the Top 10) and Top 10 in passing yards per game. He finished his career just shy of 10,000 yards of total offense and is the type of accurate pocket passer that teams need to succeed in the NFL. If he is not the first QB off the board, then expect him to land at the next team that needs a franchise QB and start in Week 1. Hello, Cleveland? If he landed in the AFC North, it would be a difficult transition against some strong defensive teams, but the weapons of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron are an excellent consolation. Ultimately, we could rank Bridgewater slightly ahead of Manziel for dynasty leagues as there is actually LESS risk in taking the accomplished, less-dramatic three-year starter.
Blake Bortles (Central Florida)
Bortles may very well be the quarterback who knocks everyone for a loop during the combine/pro day process. The 6’4”, 230-pounder is a mobile QB who finished in the Top 10 in passing efficiency and completion percentage in the FBS this past season. He led his ‘Cinderella’ Central Florida team to a 12-1 record and a win in the Fiesta Bowl – a win over Baylor during which he racked up nearly 400 yards of offense and 4 scores.
While Bortles may be seen as the project QB who could have used another year of seasoning at the NCAA level, early projections have him off the board in the first 10 picks; it’s difficult to argue with his logic to leave college now. We see Bortles as a starter in 2014 but likely the biggest Fantasy risk for any of your long-term leagues. There are too many factors at play regarding where he ultimately lands to make sure he continues his development as a top flight QB.
Derek Carr (Fresno State)
In 2002, the expansion Houston Texans selected Fresno State quarterback David Carr as their first ever NFL Draft selection. Twelve years later, David’s youngest brother Derek Carr is entering the NFL draft with the stats, size and pedigree to make any NFL franchise feel comfortable that they have a player to lead their franchise over the next decade. Carr finished a fantastic senior campaign by leading all of the FBS in total offense, passing yards, completions per game, and passing touchdowns.
The only senior QB on this list, Carr participated in the Senior Bowl and impressed – solidifying his stock by performing well all week during practice and the game. While Carr isn’t projected as a first rounder in some mock drafts, the angling of some teams to trade up for a future franchise QB will be too much to pass up in Round 1. There could be any number of teams that become impressed with the 6’3”, 218-pound Carr’s experience, football IQ and maturity, so he may see the widest range of teams showing interest leading up to May 8th. Carr will be a sneaky favorite of ours depending on where he lands for dynasty and keeper leagues. His 2014 potential has a possible late-round impact but will likely be a waiver wire find when he earns the starting job.