Fantasy Football 2014: Top 10 Things to Watch This Winter

It is hard work being a fantasy football champion. It can become a tad bit easier next summer if you put in the time during the offseason, though.

Yeah, you should be just like those NFL players you draft: preparing for the season all winter, spring and summer.

Here, we’ll help you get your offseason scouting program started with the top 10 things to watch this winter in a tidy Bleacher Report slideshow.

Don’t Overrate What You’re Watching This Postseason

It is an easy trap to fall into. You’re watching the best teams—with the best players against the best defenses—do some incredible things.

Clearly, if they can do it in January under these circumstances, they can do it during the regular season.

Well, our first mission for fantasy football scouts this winter is to turn off the TV. If you cannot bring yourself to do that, at least give what you see the Olympic gymnast “not impressed” face.

Fantasy tends to over-hype, overrate and over-draft postseason stars. Don’t be that person.

You might have been someone that reached for Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson because of that last postseason. Those people learned their lesson in fantasy—mostly as it relates to the mediocre production of Kaepernick among quarterbacks.

After one playoff round, you might be tempted to pick Andrew Luck among the first few quarterbacks or draft Alex Smith as a fantasy starter in one-quarterback leagues. Don’t.

A player’s fantasy value shouldn’t dramatically change over the course of the next few weeks unless injury is a factor.

Who’s No. 4: We Know the Top Three Picks, but Who Is Next on the Board?

You can debate the order, perhaps, but the top three picks for fantasy football 2014 should include Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson. The question we have to answer in the coming months is who should come next?

Again, don’t look to the postseason results to answer this. It will come in the way of fantasy perception, offseason player movement or just some inner soul searching.

The leading candidates right now are:

  1. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
  2. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos (free agent)
  3. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
  4. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
  5. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
  6. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
  7. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
  8. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
  9. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
  10. Arian Foster, Houston Texans

Who would you pick at No. 4 right now? Tell us in the comments below.

Who Becomes Josh Gordon’s New Best Friend?

There is no denying Josh Gordon’s talent. He looked like a Calvin Johnson-caliber fantasy receiver this season and did it with a shuffle of mediocre-at-best Cleveland Browns quarterbacks.

You can love his long-term potential, but you shouldn’t fall in love with his fantasy value relative to draft position. There are fantasy analysts out there willing to rank him as a first-round pick. There are just too many shaky variables in doing that right now.

First and foremost, who will be the Browns’ head coach next season? What system will they be running?

Rob Chudzinski was fired as head coach after only one season. The Browns are still a mess that changes coaching staffs every year. We need to find out who the coach will be and then how they are going to solve the problem at quarterback.

How Do the Quarterback-Needy Teams Fill the Void?

This shapes up to be an important draft for a number of teams looking for quarterbacks. There are no free agents worthy of starting out there—unless you see Michael Vick signing somewhere. That leaves quarterback questions to be answered in the draft.

The good news is a lot of teams needing quarterbacks are lined up at the top of the draft order. It should make for some interesting debates in the next few months.

Here are the teams who need to decide who their quarterback of the future is this winter, working from the top down in the draft order:

1. Houston Texans

2. St. Louis Rams: Do they bank on Sam Bradford (knee) still?

3. Jacksonville Jaguars

4. Cleveland Browns

5. Oakland Raiders

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Does Lovie Smith’s regime trust Mike Glennon long term?

8. Minnesota Vikings

11. Tennessee Titans

18. New York Jets

20. Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer is not a long-term answer, but will he suffice for now?

That is a total of 10 teams that could be drafting a franchise quarterback. Even if those rookie quarterbacks won’t be fantasy starters right away, they stand to impact the fantasy options around them at least.

Where Does Knowshon Moreno Wind Up in Free Agency?

There is no question who the most important free agent in fantasy football is. It is Knowshon Moreno.

A return to Denver makes him a first-round pick, if not No. 4 overall behind Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson. A move out of Denver might drop him out of Round 1.

Heck, the likes of Montee Ball could become a second-round pick in fantasy if he is the sure-fire starter to replace Moreno. A Moreno return makes Ball a mere handcuff pick outside of the top 30 fantasy running backs.

The Broncos also have Eric Decker as a pending free agent, so don’t watch his or Moreno’s numbers so much this postseason as much as their earning a return to Denver, which boasted the most potent offense in NFL history this season.

Titans’ Chris Johnson Is CJ2…um…CJ Too Expensive?

Chris Johnson has rushed for 1,000-plus yards each of his six seasons, but his huge contract might get him sent packing. It is just hard for a perennially rebuilding Tennessee Titans team to allocate his kind of money to a running back who will be 29 next season.

Chris Johnson admitted to John Glennon of The Tennessean after the Titans’ Week 17 game he has had thoughts of not being brought back under his contract terms, which including $8 million salaries in 2014 and 2015.

I gave a thought to that…about this possibly being my last game in a Tennessee uniform. You know, you give it thought, but at the end of the day, you can’t let that affect how you play in the game.

Johnson is still an explosive weapon that can be a fantasy superstar in the right system. Granted, he is a bit old for a fantasy first-round running back, but he stands to be a good value pick in the right situation.

We will see if that situation is the one in Tennessee.

Who Takes over as Head Coach in Washington and How Does It Impact RG3?

Robert Griffin III has already gone through the highs (2012) and lows (2013) of the NFL season. Now, he has gone through a head coach in Mike Shanahan, who was fired.

Fantasy is desirous of RG3 becoming a superstar, so the Washington Redskins head coach and offensive coordinator decisions will be closely monitored, for sure.

You should bank on the news being nothing but good for RG3’s fantasy production. After all, he is the face of the franchise, and they need a hire that can get the best out of him. The deeper question you will need to ask is whether the new hire creates too much buzz and forces RG3 to be drafted too early.

The latter is likely, but we will withhold judgment until we see how it all shakes out.

How Much Will We Find out About Rob Gronkowski Before Draft Day 2014?

A serious injury to a New England Patriots player is the worst kind for a fantasy football owner. Bill Belichick‘s team is notorious for being mum on injury progress. We lived that already this past season with Rob Gronkowski.

We are about to go through it all over again with his knee injury.

The silver lining here is Gronk will have time for his arm and back issues to fully heal, at least. Also, knee surgery has proven successful for premium athletes, which we should agree Gronk still is.

Gronk could be back for Week 1 next September, or he could be a candidate for the PUP list, which would put him out the first half of the year—most of the fantasy season.

That sounds like a broken record. It will also keep Gronk from being a candidate to pick before Round 5 in fantasy next year.

Wherever he winds up, he will be one-part sleeper and one-part potential bust.

Should We Ever Bank on Anything out of the Giants’ David Wilson?

A serious neck injury is scary for anyone. For a running back, it can end your career.

David Wilson‘s career has hardly gotten started—at least to the level we had expected in fantasy football. The Giants are not ready to bank on him as their running back for next season like they were so anxious to this past winter.

Giants general manager Jerry Reese told ESPN’s Dan Graziano they are going to have to prepare to replace Wilson as the leader of the running back position on the depth chart. Wilson has said he wants to return and be the feature back, but Reese says:

If a guy is having a possible surgery that could end his career, it’s hard to say that. I think we’ll have to have some contingency plans at the running back position. I don’t think you go into the next season saying David Wilson’s going to be our No. 1, starting running back. I don’t think you can do that. The guy is coming off of a neck surgery, if he decides to have it.

Expect the Giants to sign a free agent—perhaps in addition to their own free-agent running back Andre Brown—or select a durable, big back in the draft.

If the Giants do a combination of those things, consider that reason enough to not expect anything out of Wilson in fantasy terms.

Who Do the Colts Consider Their Feature Back Going Forward?

If you have to take anything away from the Indianapolis Colts’ legendary comeback victory over the Kansas City Chiefs from this weekend, take this: Andrew Luck is going to make that one heck of an offensive juggernaut for years to come.

Think: Peyton Manning for the next 10 years.

And think of all that fantasy goodness all around him.

The Colts have Donald Brown headed for free agency, but they also made an aggressive in-season trade for Trent Richardson to be their workhorse back for years to come. The Colts playoff games won’t answer the question of who they will trust for 2014, but free agency and the draft might.

If the Colts allow Brown to leave and don’t draft a premium back, Richardson just might not be junk after all. Whoever is getting the carries and touchdowns in that potent Colts attack figures to be a solid value relative to draft position—something Richardson failed to prove to be in 2013.

Follow @EricMackFantasy

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