It’s never too early to look ahead to next season – just ask any fan of the Buffalo Bills.
With the 2013 fantasy season behind us (unless you play in a league that counts Week 17, and if that’s the case, stop that) here’s a mock draft of how the first round of your fantasy league could play out next season.
1. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City. He’s found a perfect fit in Andy Reid’s offense, and the 26-year-old should have plenty of good football in front of him. Charles just recently went over the 1,000-carry plateau for his career. His pass-catching ability – particularly important in points per reception leagues – means he rarely has down weeks. This year, he only put up less than 10 points in two games.
2. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia. The Eagles’ offense should only improve in the second year with coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles. The 25-year-old McCoy actually has more career carries than Charles, but wear and tear shouldn’t be a problem yet. McCoy’s not quite the receiver Charles is, but he’s got 51 catches in an offense that has attempted the fourth-most rushes in the NFL, with McCoy leading the league in yards on the ground with 1,476 (189 more than any other player). That means ample opportunities each week.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. Peterson crushed fantasy owners in the postseason after getting hurt in Week 14 at Baltimore. He finished with just one fantasy point in that game, and did not play the following week. He’ll be 29 next season and is over 2,000 career carries, so a drop off in production is coming at some point. But even in a “down” year, Peterson still had 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns (prior to Week 17). He’s got the name recognition and ability to still be a top-three pick in ’14.
4. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago. There’s a whole lot to like about Forte in coach Marc Trestman’s system. He’s a PPR monster (70 catches this season) and remarkably consistent – with 12 of 15 games this season in double-digit fantasy points.
5. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit. Johnson needs just 8 yards Sunday to become the first receiver in NFL history with 1,500 yards in three consecutive season. That despite being hobbled by a knee injury on two separate occasions this season. When he’s healthy, like he should be to start the 2014 season, there’s still no better receiver in the NFL.
6. Peyton Manning. QB, Denver. Manning has an NFL record 51 touchdown passes with a game to play, four dynamic receiving options and a solid option at running back. It’ll be tough to duplicate this year’s numbers, and Manning will be 38 next year, but he could have 68 fewer fantasy points next year – and still be the highest-scoring player in the NFL.
7. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay. He closed the fantasy season exactly the way you’d hope, with 290 yards and four touchdowns. The injuries suffered as a rookie are a concern, but Lacy is productive enough to warrant a first-round selection.
8. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland. The big worry with Gordon is he’s one positive drug test away from a long suspension, but when he’s on the field he’s pushing Megatron for the title of the NFL’s best receiver. Gordon has 1,652 total yards since Week 3. That’s only 4 less than McCoy for the most in the NFL.
9. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans. He finished the 2013 fantasy season with 52 more points than any other tight end in the NFL. His points total (198) was more than any receiver in the league other than Gordon (213) and Johnson (212).
10. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle. Lynch has been a model of consistency the last three years with the Seahawks - gaining more than 1,100 yards and scoring at least 11 touchdowns in each season. As long as he stays in the same system, that type of production should continue.
11. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. Rodgers averaged more than 20 points per game at the start of the season before his broken collarbone forced him to miss seven games. He should be 100 percent in 2014 and back to being one of the two or three best quarterbacks in football.
12. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati. He’s topped 1,000 yards every year in the NFL, and gone over 1,300 in the past two seasons. If there’s such a thing as a “safe” fantasy pick, Green is it. He’s got at least 116 receiving targets in each season.
Analyzing the Bills
If your league does count Week 17, consider Bills running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller as No. 2 running backs. Jackson got a season-high 19 carries last week, with 111 yards and a touchdown – despite playing with broken ribs. Spiller has 171 total yards the past two games, looking more and more like himself after dealing with a high-ankle sprain much of the season. The Patriots rank 29th in the league in stopping the rush.
Rookie receiver Robert Woods is a decent sleeper option at receiver. He had three catches for 70 yards before being ejected last week for throwing a punch.