4.) Terrance West, Browns (129, 87) - West has been running with the starters in OTAs so far due to Ben Tate’s usual injury issues. If healthy Tate is probably the starter, but staying healthy has been a problem for Tate throughout his career. He’s never made it through a full season without missing games and I don’t think a starters workload will make him any sturdier. Tate is going to miss some games and when he does, West will be the primary ball-carrier. West has the build to hold up with 20+ carries a week and the talent to keep the job once he gets it. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but is shiftier than he should be for his size (5’9, 225), can catch the ball out of the backfield, and his angry running style is going to win some fans in Cleveland right away. I wouldn’t be shocked if West wins the job outright with Tate being used as a back-up like he was in Houston. The Browns have a solid O-line and with the dangerous Manziel under center, West could find wide running lanes and put up low-end RB1 / top-tier RB2 numbers. I’d be willing to bet significant cash that he finishes the year ranked ahead of Ben Tate.
5.) Johnny Manziel, Browns (171, 101) - The Browns will keep the facade of Hoyer starting for at least the first few weeks of preseason, but eventually Manziel will take the job. Once he does, Manziel has the talent to put up similar numbers as RG3 did his rookie year. He’s too risky for me to draft him as my #1 fantasy QB, but he is a top-tier QB2. With his running ability, I see 200 yards passing, 50 rushing and 1-2 touchdowns per week on average. That makes him a more attractive fantasy option then guys like Flacco, Palmer, and Tannehill who are ranked above him. If you aren’t willing to spend money on an expensive #1 QB, pairing a cheap QB like Cutler, McCown or Romo with Manziel as a back-up could give you enough production to be competitive. I think Manziel ends up ranked in the top 15 of fantasy QBs, which would put him in the top 75 overall.
6.) Jordan Matthews, Eagles (197, 107) - Matthews has been running with the 2nd team in OTAs, but by all reports he has been the best WR in the Eagles camp. Brad Smith is currently manning the slot position with the starters, but that’s not going to last. I had Matthews with a 1st round grade and my opinion hasn’t changed. The SEC’s all-time leading receiver in a polished route-runner with great size (6’3, 205), reliable hands and underrated speed (4.46). Once Matthews earns the starting slot position he has only Jeremy Maclin, who is still recovering from an ACL injury, and Riley Cooper, who is limited athletically, to compete with for catches. I think Matthews will be Foles’ go-to WR by the end of the season and a 70, 900, 8 season is a legitimate possibility which would put him in the top 100 overall.
7.) Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers (157, 114) - If Benjamin can’t beat out current Panthers starters Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery than he will be considered a huge bust. The Panthers passed up glaring needs on the O-line and in the defensive backfield to draft Benjamin, so they are expecting him to at least earn one of the two very available starting WR spots. Benjamin is a freak athlete at 6’5, 240 with 3% body fat and an 83-inch wingspan. Despite being a raw route-runner, he showed flashes of being an unstoppable weapon at receiver in college. He’s built like a tight end, has decent straight line speed (4.61) and at times showed great hands. At worst Benjamin should be a dangerous deep threat with the size and body control to win jump balls against any corner matched up against him. It may take some time for him to develop the route running ability to contribute on short-to-intermediate routes, but his deep ball ability should result in some big plays this year and enough stats to warrant a spot on your fantasy roster and a top 125 overall ranking.
8.) Eric Ebron, Lions (172, 121) - How is Ebron not ranked on ESPN’s list? This is a guy that the Lions drafted 10th overall despite having glaring needs at cornerback. Clearly the Lions are high on Ebron and he is joining an offense that hasn’t had a 2nd option at receiver since Stafford joined the team. With Megatron drawing constant double teams and free agent acquisition Golden Tate deserving at least some attention, Ebron should never see a double team. With his elite speed and athleticism, he should be in the top 5 tight ends as a rookie. I think it’s ridiculous to not have Ebron in the top 200. Rob Housler finished last season as Yahoo’s 198th ranked player with a 39 catch, 454 yard, 1 TD season. Ebron can crush those numbers especially with the Lions plan to use Ebron in a similar role as the Saints use Jimmy Graham. Ebron will be split out often with Pettigrew handling the in-line responsibilities, and Ebron will be facing single coverage from safeties and linebackers. If he can catch the ball consistently, Ebron should be a lock for 50, 750, 5 and a top 150 ranking.
9.) Odell Beckham Jr, Giants (181, 130) - I am surprised to see Beckham so low on the rankings considering that he is a guy multiple teams were trying to trade up for, he is already running with the starters in OTAs and is on a team with a good QB and a pass heavy offense. The Giants brought in some help on the O-line so Eli’s numbers should improve. Beckham has all the tools to be a productive receiver and should surpass the inconsistent Reuben Randle as Eli’s #2 target after Victor Cruz. I think Beckham’s stats will resemble Cecil Shorts numbers from last season (66, 777, 3) which would rank him in the low 100s.
10.) Charles Sims, Bucs (195, 136) - Doug Martin was bad last year averaging only 3.6 ypc and getting hurt again. Outside of Martin’s one great game as a rookie vs the Raiders (25, 256), Martin has averaged less than 4.0 ypc for his career (3.9). Granted the Bucs O-line has been banged up, but Martin hasn’t shown me enough to be sure he is a legit premier RB. Who knows what Lovie Smith thinks, but he is already hinting at a RBBC with the rookie Sims handling some 3rd down responsibilities. Sims was one of the best pass blocking backs in the draft this year and has a well-rounded skill-set. Sims actually reminded me (and other analysts) of Matt Forte who had a lot of success playing for Lovie Smith with the Bears. I think Martin will get the first crack at the starting gig, but if he struggles or doesn’t improve on his ypc, Sims could have the job in the 2nd half of the season. Sims should see 8-10 touches even as the back up which is enough for him to be ranked in the top 200. He has better receiving skills than Martin and the Bucs new coaching staff wouldn’t have used a 3rd round pick on Sims if they weren’t planning on playing him. Sims’ floor is Bobby Rainey’s 2013 season (600 total yards, 6 TDs) but he could do a lot more if he can take Martin’s job.
11.) Lorenzo Taliaferro, Ravens (200+, 148) - Ray Rice failed the eye-test last season, he looked like a midget fullback. His only game with more than 75 yards came against a Bears defense who was regularly giving up huge games to opposing ball-carriers (Benny Cunningham, Brandon Jacobs). Rice is facing at least a 4-game suspension for his off-field transgressions and the Ravens could be looking to move on from the $24M+ of un-guaranteed cash Rice is owed over the next three seasons. Back-up Bernard Pierce is probably the next in line, but averaged only 2.9 ypc in his chance as a starter last season. While Rice looked like a midget fullback, Pierce looked like a normal sized one. Neither guy showed any burst or breakaway speed last year and for a team that uses the run to set up the pass, they need a RB who can demand attention from the defense. The Ravens liked Taliaferro enough to use a 4th round pick on him. He’s not a burner (4.58), but he has good size (6’0, 229), might have been the best pass blocking RB in the draft, can catch the ball out of the backfield, and was unstoppable in college last year (6.3 ypc, 29 TDs) albeit against sub-par competition. His vision is his best attribute and he could be the most talented RB on the Ravens roster right now. Taliaferro is worth the last spot on your fantasy roster; Ray Rice is done, Pierce was never that good, and Taliaferro has fresh legs and a well-rounded skill-set. Talent finds its way onto the field and I think Taliaferro is going to start a few games before the 2014 season is over.
12.) Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings (200+,157) - It doesn’t take much for a quarterback to finish ranked in the top 200. Even Terrell Pryor finished in the top 200 (169) last year and he only threw 7 TD passes (11 INTs). Bridgewater isn’t a lock to start this year, but is already taking some snaps with the starters and has only mediocre Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder in front of him on the depth chart. Bridgewater was my #1 ranked QB coming into the draft and I thought he was the most NFL ready QB. The Vikings have a strong running game with AP, one of the better O-lines in the game and an explosive receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson. The blocking and weapons are there for a solid fantasy season and Bridgewater is clearly the best QB option for the Vikings. Once he takes the job, which he will this year, he has a solid 250 yard, 2 TD per week potential which would easily put him in the top 200 as long as he gets the job by week 10.