When you’ve been playing fantasy football since Bill Clinton was best known as governor of a small southern state, it’s tough to wake up one day in your 40s and realize you’re the second-best fantasy player in your bed.
But that was the case Tuesday morning, mere hours after my four-game collapse was complete and my wife had secured the final wild-card berth in the only league we really want to win.
Now that my season is over, there are only two things left to do — wish my wife luck in bringing postseason glory to the household (Good luck, baby!) and start thinking of next season.
The following are the 12 players that should make up the first round of 2014 fantasy drafts. They won’t all be drafted that high because many owners will get caught up in overdrafting running backs, underdrafting the top quarterbacks and assuming they can win with Cam Newton, but dependability is key to consistent success, and these dozen players are the most dependable fantasy options in a league that has become increasingly unpredictable.
12. Alfred Morris: The Redskins RB makes the list by default. The way this NFL season has gone, it was almost impossible to come up with 12 names for this list. Having said that, despite being compromised much of the season by blowout losses and questionable playcalling, Morris still managed to surpass 1,000 yards for the second-straight season while averaging 4.7 yards per carry to this point. It will be interesting to see how he is used with Kirk Cousins as the QB the next three weeks, and even more interesting to see how Washington’s new coach uses a proven talent next season.
11. Josh Gordon: This sentence is the first time “Browns,” fantasy football” and “first round” have ever been used together. But jokes aside, Cleveland has itself a real talent. Gordon leads the NFL with 1,400 receiving yards despite missing the first two games due to suspension. In Weeks 12 and 13, he put 237 and 261 yards respectively, and last week, against a Patriots defense that prides itself on stopping an opponent’s best player, he put up another 151 yards. The amazing thing about Gordon is that he burst onto the scene with Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden throwing the ball. Imagine what he could do with a good quarterback.
10. Calvin Johnson: He’s just the best receiver in the NFL. It helps that Matthew Stafford throws more than any QB in the league, but like Gordon, the Lions receiver can succeed with anyone under center. After setting the record for single-season yardage last year, he’s second to Gordon this year — including a 329-yard game — and leads all WRs with 12 TDs. As dependable as they come at a mercurial position.
9. Peyton Manning: While most top QBs are undervalued each year, that won’t happen with Manning in 2014. He’ll be overdrafted, likely as the top pick in based on the historic season he’s having. He’s going to break the single-season TD mark (he stands at 45 entering Thursday night’s game and needs just 6 to break Tom Brady’s 2007 record), and his late-career resurgence with the Broncos has been amazing, but he will come back down to Earth next year. Relatively. Another season like 2012, when he threw “just” 37 TDs can be expected.
8. Aaron Rodgers: His broken collarbone is the first significant injury of his career and it’s on his non-throwing side. Assuming he doesn’t return this season and reinjure himself, he’ll be ready to resume his spot among the NFL’s elite in 2014.
7. Marshawn Lynch: While Russell Wilson and the defense have been getting all the publicity, the Seahawks veteran has quietly rushed for 1,042 yards and 10 TDs, the third straight season he’s reached double figures. Hitching your wagon to “Beast Mode” is a proven winning strategy.
6. Jamaal Charles: One of the few top-five backs entering the season who did not disappoint. As expected, he’s been the focal point of Andy Reid’s defense. Like LeSean McCoy in 2011 under Reid, Charles has been a TD machine. He scored at least once in each of his first seven games and has scored at least once in each of the past three. He’s second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,621.
5. Jimmy Graham: The Saints tight end is not only the best at his position, he’s arguably the best receiver in the NFL from a fantasy standpoint. He can’t compete with Johnson or Gordon in the yards department, but he’s already exceeded 1,000 and he leads the NFL with 14 TDs. If you look up position scarcity in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Jimmy Graham.
4. Matt Forte: He and Charles are interchangeable. Forte ranks just behind Charles with 1,591 total yards, and his 9 total TDs are four fewer than Charles. I put Forte just above Charles because I think he has more upside in Marc Trestman’s offense now that he is the primary goal-line back.
3. Adrian Peterson: His numbers in a “down” season: 1,221 yards and 10 TDs through 13 games. He’s been the most dependable fantasy player at the most important position since he entered the league. He gained 211 yards against the Bears with a nagging groin injury. That’s what the Vikings running back gives you.