2014 Draft First Look

Jeff Haverlack

Each year around this time I like to perform what I consider my “first look” at the upcoming draft as a whole, loosely examining the depth of the class with a focus on fantasy.  Every year finds a draft with its own unique variables and specifics that sets it apart from any other.  That’s not to say that the stratification and depth within certain positions doesn’t resemble prior year drafts, but it’s important to analyze each draft as an individual, rather than apply a blanket analysis of sorts.

Through this exercise and analysis a fantasy coach can cross-reference the strength and weaknesses of the upcoming class with that of the draft picks held in order to discern the best use of those picks, be it through making a selection or, perhaps, trading away the pick for known production.  The lay of your team when combined with your draft picks will suggest a course of action that emerges as the NFL draft unfolds.  Whether you are able to rise above the allure of a ‘sexy’ pick and, instead, use the selection to address a need will be your challenge.  While there’s every possibility that the ‘sexy’ pick will pan out, there’s far more potential that it will not.  Remember my criticism of coaches selecting Ronnie Hillman in 2012?  Read my words carefully here:  Sex does not equate to fantasy production.

Let me start with a tip that I believe is well understood (at least after each draft) but so infrequently followed:  Fantasy draft picks nearly always lose value AFTER the NFL draft.  The reason I say “at least after each draft” is because we fantasy coaches believe each selection holds the potential of being the missing piece to our respective teams that will allow us to hoist that coveted league trophy.  In reality, the NFL draft rarely unfolds as planned and teams in desperate need of players at all positions frequently go in a different direction, leaving those fantasy marquee names to fall, often times to teams that make a value selection without immediate need.  The results are top names going to poor opportunities for immediate playing time and fantasy production.  For this reason, it’s not uncommon for fantasy teams at the top of the draft to select immediate production potential over skill and quality, allowing the more skilled players to fall down the draft – to teams in your league that are already more competitive at the bottom of each round.  Yet we as fantasy coaches, can’t help ourselves as the draft approaches.  Fantasy impact can most certainly come from high picks in your draft, but the odds are against you.  Just don’t discount the opportunity of trading away any pick in your first round if you can secure production that can be in your starting lineup the following year from week one.

So at this early stage, how is 2014 shaping up?  Let’s take a look.

Quick View

An in-the-know fantasy coach doesn’t need to look too deeply to understand that 2014 is not a year for running backs.  There’s certain to be difference makers that emerge from this year’s rookies, but if you’re the type that would much rather use your early draft selection on talent and not situation, then this is a good draft to stay away from if running back is your primary need.  On the contrary, if you are receiver or quarterback needy, there are plenty of names to target this year.  That said, recall that a fantasy choice of a wide receiver not taken within the first five selections of the NFL draft busts at a very high rate.  There are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but generally, wide receivers are nearly impossible to predict and will, most often, break your heart.  2014 has talent, but only a single player that projects well enough to carry a lot of intrigue and excitement.  There’s reason to be excited about the quarterback class and I’ll cover that shortly.  Tight ends are what tight ends usually are.  Two athletic names top the list and deserve attention. In today’s NFL that is now rewarding play-making athletes at the position, you may even bump them up in your rankings.

Overall, when surveying this year’s class prior to the NFL draft, a selection in the bottom half of the first round is a great place to be.  I see only a single near-elite player that teams should target which makes 1.01 the pick to own.  Following that selection, the next half-round of selections will come down to your fantasy team’s need and the sources you trust for scouting the available players.  Just for the record here, I would put DLF’s player scouting results with regard to ultimate fantasy performance up against anyone on the Net.  When looking at this draft for fantasy impact, I much prefer a trade out of picks 1.02 through 1.05 without much thought or lost sleep.  If you can secure a need with a younger productive veteran via trade, allow someone else to take the risk on a player that has yet to take a snap in the NFL.  Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson and Montee Ball are all nice young players, but that doesn’t guarantee near-term fantasy performance.  Great building blocks?  Yes.    But at least check your trade market to gauge if there’s an owner willing to overpay for a chance to spin the wheel.

2014 is a year where talent will drop due to a large second tier of skill position players at the hands of coaches stepping up to select situation over talent.  Patience will pay off in the second half of your first round.


My belief is that 2014 will indeed be the year of the quarterback.  Early analysis points to four quarterbacks being taken in the first round of the NFL draft.  I still have much tape to evaluate but early indications are that Teddy Bridgewater remains my top rookie at the position, and by a fairly wide margin.  His stock has been sliding of late and, in some circles, Johnny Manziel has overtaken the top spot on the board.  There are many reasons why I believe this is a mistake.  Johnny “Football” is as intriguing as they come, as was Tim Tebow.  Manziel has quarterback talent that Tebow never possessed but I can nearly guarantee that he will not overtake Bridgewater on my board.  Blake Bortles’ stock has been reacting much like a tech stock during the dot com bubble.  He’s got the prototypical size and quarterback tangibles that suggest success at the next level.  His arm strength is passable and he looks the part.  He’ll likely be third at the position on my board.  Derek Carr is a wild card though I still expect him to hear his name called in the first round of the NFL draft.  He’ll easily fall well into the second round of rookie drafts, but if you’re looking for a young project player at the position, he’ll be a good ‘get’ in the teens.  Beyond these four, there’s talen in Zach Mettenberger, Tajh Boyd and A.J. McCarron.  Further tape study will follow on all these players so keep an eye for my individual position breakdown and review in the coming months.

This  class reminds me much more of the 2004 class than that of 2012.  2004 saw Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger selected in the first round.  I think talent from this year’s group could be much the same but not to the same degree or dynamic that was 2012 with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.  Ryan Tannehill was also a first round selection in that year and appears to be making progress as a mid-level quarterback in fantasy.  In most all cases, quarterbacks tend to fall in fantasy drafts and this year will likely be no different, even if that shouldn’t be the case due to the talent level present in other positions.  Unless you play in a super-flex (two quarterback) league, you only start one quarterback and there isn’t a lot of excitement with a selection of a young bench player with a high pick.

Running Backs

seastrunkMake no mistake, there are names that I like here.  But players that I “like” are not players I would be selecting in the top five of a rookie draft unless  I could find no trade partner.  Even then, I would not be forcing a selection of a running back if I felt there was a receiver or a quarterback that had more NFL potential, which I believe is the case this year.  Couple this with the fact that the running back by committee (RBBC) has reared its ugly head as it never has before in 2014, sapping the value of such names as Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Alfred Morris and Chris Johnson.  Even during this fantasy off-season, short as it has been, more NFL coaches have expressed a desire to work in more backs into their systems in order to utilize specialized talents and keep the backs fresh.  This is a situation that fantasy owners must continue to follow and react to accordingly.  If you play in a PPR format, you must identify those work-horse backs and elevate receivers.  In non-PPR scoring formats, top receivers are closing (or have closed) the gap between themselves and running backs, who are typically heavily favored in early rounds.

Your top backs are likely to be Ka’Deem Carey, Tre Mason, Lache Seastrunk and Carlos Hyde.  Other names are in the mix as well but I’m not prepared to give you an order until I view far more tape.  What I can tell you is that there are no elite running backs in this class at first glance and I fully believe that for the second time in two years, there will be no running backs selected in the first round.  A draft review as far back as 1970 finds that, with the exception of 2013, there hasn’t been a single year in which at least one running back hasn’t been selected in the first round.  Should 2014 again follow suit, this signifies a trend folks.  In 2011, only a single back (Mark Ingram) was chosen with selection #28.  Like him or not, Mike Shanahan’s strategy of finding top backs later in the draft has worked and is being adopted league-wide.

Wide Receivers

2014 has a chance to be the first year in which the first five picks in fantasy could all be receivers.  I don’t expect this will occur and then only in PPR formats, but the talent across all positions makes receiver the most valuable; there’s little doubt that the top running back to a good situation will find their way into the first five selections.

Sammy Watkins is a near-lock to be the first selection in most all fantasy drafts.  As the only true elite player when considering all skill positions, he rises to the top due most others being well behind in dynamic.  With that in mind, know that I currently have Teddy Bridgewater as 1B to Watkins’ 1A status and believe those that are lowering Bridgewater’s value are missing the boat.  More to come on this subject as more tape is reviewed.

Currently, along with Watkins, you can expect Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Marqise Lee and even Brandin Cooks to be coveted come draft day, both your’s and the NFL’s.  Other names such as Davante Adams and Jordan Matthews are rising as well.   Unlike previous years, there are a large number of big-bodied receivers headlining the position.  As a fan of this characteristic in my receivers, I believe 2014 could be a banner year at the position.  Remember, however, that no position busts quite like the wide receiver, so that must be factored.

Tight Ends

I typically don’t spend a lot of time at the tight end position.  Mostly because I have poor knees  and my blocking is poor (queue the laugh track). So few become top names in fantasy and they’re almost never selected in the first round of fantasy drafts.  More recently, athletic tight ends are being utilized to a greater degree, making top players as valuable as many of the top receiver names.  I don’t suggest greatly over-drafting names at the position, but you need to watch NFL systems that utilize tight ends and be aware of the names being plugged into those systems.  New England, Green Bay, New Orleans and Atlanta immediately come to mind, three of which ranking highly for a selection in 2014.

The two top names to follow this year are Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro.  Amaro is the more prototypical player while Ebron’s ceiling is higher in my opinion, as is his floor, lower.  System selection will play a large role in my ultimate ranking.  A tier behind both Ebron and Amaro is Austin Seferian-Jenkins.  Truth be told, he appears to be more than a tier below the other two names, but I’ll reserve my final opinion after more tape is viewed.  In all likelihood, you won’t be seeing these names selected until the second round of your rookie draft, with a few selections at the bottom of the first depending on team need.


Wrapping up, it appears as though 2014 is another year where the second four selections carry nearly as much player value as those at 1.02 – 1.05, especially if wide receiver isn’t a glaring need.  This is a perfect year for you to address your team’s individual needs via trade if you own a higher selection, or simply choose best player available if your selection is in the second half of the first round.   Wide receiver talent remains the strength of the class with quarterback talent providing intriguing value at lower selections.  Unfortunately, for teams holding a high selection, meaning that they likely finished 2013 poorly, it doesn’t appear to be a deep draft of productive quality fantasy players in the near-term outside of receiver phenom Sammy Watkins.  Note, too, that Watkins does not carry the measurables typically seen in dominant receivers, possibly not even measuring 6’ in height.  I’m not ready to dub Watkins a fantasy star in the making.

Stay tuned as we’ll be rolling up our sleeves far more in the coming weeks!

Follow me on Twitter:  @DLF_Jeff

jeff haverlack