C.J. Spiller is feeling the fantasy love from the national outlets. But that’s about it when it comes to Buffalo Bills worth targeting in the early rounds of your draft.
Spiller is ranked as the No. 2 player by both Jamey Eisenberg and Nathan Zegura of CBS Sports. Colleague Dave Richards lists him as No. 4.
NFL.com and ESPN have slightly less favorable projections, with Spiller rated sixth and seventh overall, respectively.
“Spiller is simply the most elusive running back in the NFL,” according to ESPN’s projection. “A track star with Bugs Bunny quicks, Spiller also averaged 2.1 yards after contact per carry in ’12, which was third among rushers with at least 200 totes.”
The next member of the Bills to be ranked is receiver Stevie Johnson. He’s the 78th-best player, according to ESPN, and 32nd among players at his position. That makes Johnson a low-end No. 2 receiver in standard leagues that start two wideouts.
“Johnson’s had the bulk of the passing work to himself the last few years and hasn’t been any more than serviceable in fantasy,” the NFL.com preview of the Bills’ fantasy players states. “Johnson could see his numbers slide as Buffalo tries to find new playmakers outside.”
Johnson is rated as high as 78th (by Zegura) and as low as 88th (by Eisenberg) at CBS Sports.
The general public concurs. Johnson’s average draft position in ESPN leagues thus far is 88th.
Part of the angst in drafting Johnson comes from the uncertainty surrounding his quarterback. Rookie EJ Manuel will be the guy once he’s healthy, but in the meantime undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel will be throwing to Johnson.
Manuel is ranked 288th by ESPN – but has a much more favorable average draft position of 140th. His value is clearly much higher in keeper leagues or leagues that start two quarterbacks.
Manuel looks like the only rookie quarterback worth using a draft pick on – quite a change from 2012. Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck both finished in the top 10 of fantasy points as rookies.
Spiller is entering his fourth season. With an eye on youth, here is a position-by-position look at the top young players and their fantasy outlooks.
Quarterbacks• Robert Griffin III, Washington — RGIII tore an ACL in his knee Jan. 6. While he wants to start in Week One, he hasn’t yet gotten that clearance from Dr. James Andrews. Griffin would be a top-five quarterback without the injury. As it stands, he’s a mid-round draft pick.
• Andrew Luck, Indianapolis – His former coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton, is taking over the Colts’ offense. That’s not good news from a fantasy perspective. The Colts are expected to go to more of a West Coast system, meaning Luck might not push the ball down the field as much as he did as a rookie. Like Griffin, he’s a mid-round pick as a low-end No. 1 quarterback.
• Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco — ESPN projected Kaepernick’s stats from 2012 over a full season to be 3,675 passing yards, 544 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns. That would have made him the No. 9 fantasy quarterback. There are reasons to be cautious, though, because Kaepernick does not have a proven deep threat to throw to. Defenses have also had a whole offseason to devise ways of better defending him.
• Cam Newton, Carolina — He’s finished in the top five in fantasy points in each of his first two seasons and benefits from playing in the NFC South, which is mostly a defense-free zone. Newton’s biggest attribute from a fantasy perspective is his rushing ability, particularly around the goal line.
• Russell Wilson, Seattle — The Seahawks attempted more rushing plays than any team in the NFL last season. With Percy Harvin injured, the offense looks like it will follow the same blueprint. That means Wilson should be looked at as a low-end No. 1 to start the season, a mid-round pick.
Wide receivers• A.J. Green, Cincinnati — He had 19 targets in the red zone last season and had 12 plays of 25-plus yards. He was also targeted more than 150 times, catching almost 60 percent of those. He’s had double digits in fantasy points in 19 of 32 career games. Outside Calvin Johnson, he’s the best receiver in the league.
• Dez Bryant, Dallas — Over the final seven games of 2012, he produced 47 catches for 792 yards and nine TDs. And, he played the final four games with a broken finger. He should get more than the 138 targets that he got last year.
• Julio Jones, Atlanta — Jones’ biggest problem is the offense he plays in. With Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and now Steven Jackson, the Falcons are loaded. Jones was only 19th in targets last season. He will overtake White as Atlanta’s top wideout this season, and be among the top five at his position.
• Demaryius Thomas, Denver — Thomas got 140 targets last year playing with Peyton Manning. He produced 94 catches for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns. His target number is likely to go down because the Broncos acquired Wes Welker in the offseason.
• Randall Cobb, Green Bay — With Greg Jennings out of the picture, Cobb has the opportunity to become Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 target. He caught 80 passes on just 104 targets last year, and should see both numbers go up this year.
Running backs• Doug Martin, Tampa Bay — As a rookie he put up 1,926 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. After Tampa Bay’s bye week, he had nine of 12 games with at least 100 total yards. He could go as high as No. 2 overall in drafts behind Adrian Peterson.
• Trent Richardson, Cleveland — The biggest concern with Richardson is injury. He had knee and ankle injuries, as well as broken ribs last season. This year, he’s dealt with a right shin injury during training camp. If he can stay healthy, the Browns will lean on him heavily. He’s a solid receiver out of the backfield, with 51 catches as a rookie, and should easily get 20 touches per game.
• Alfred Morris, Washington — Morris had seven 100-yard games as a rookie as Mike Shanahan uncharacteristically didn’t rotate his backs. Morris doesn’t offer much as a receiver, but he’s a first-round pick in any fantasy format.
Tight ends• Jimmy Graham, New Orleans — Wrist surgery should help Graham bounce back from a season in which he had 14 dropped passes. Still, he was the No. 1 scoring tight end. He’s also playing in a contract year. Graham is the rare tight end who can be taken as high as the second round.
• Rob Gronkowski, New England — Gronkowski needed four surgeries to correct a broken arm, and also had back surgery in the offseason. He could miss all of September. Because of those reasons, he can’t be considered until at least the middle of your fantasy draft. When he does get back, he should rival Graham for the No. 1 fantasy tight end. Gronk has 38 career touchdowns in 43 games.