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Fantasy football: A look back at 2014 season

For most people, the fantasy football season is over -- a majority of leagues don't have championship games in the final week of the NFL regular season since teams locked into their playoff spots will often rest starters (see the Cowboys and DeMarco Murray) and teams eliminated will sit players who have been gutting through injuries most of the season (see the Saints and Jimmy Graham) which can really upset the competitive balance for the most important game.

Still, a few leagues will do week 17 contests that involve total points, so a few of you may still be playing.


But today, rather than analyzing match-ups and suggesting some players, I'd rather take a look back at the 2014 season and see what we've learned, and how we can put that knowledge to use in 2015 and in the future.

Don't draft a QB early, instead draft two late


I feel like this is said every year, and every year, three to four quarterbacks go in the first two rounds. Unless you play in a league where you have to start two quarterbacks, I still contend this is a bad philosophy.

The top three quarterbacks picked in most drafts this year were Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, in that order. They finished fourth, fifth and second, respectively in scoring, so it's not like they didn't give you a pretty reasonable return on the investment.

However, I do think it's worth noting that all three had major duds in the fantasy playoffs (all three had two games under 15 points in weeks 14-16) when you needed them most, so any arguments that drafting a stud QB early gives you the week to week consistency and a sense of relief that your QB won't go belly up in the playoffs doesn't hold water.

Two other highly drafted QBs, Matthew Stafford (QB4) and Cam Newton (QB7) finished 15th and 16th in total scoring. Meanwhile, quarterbacks likely drafted as back-ups, Russell Wilson (QB13), Philip Rivers (QB15) and Ben Roethlisberger (QB16) finished third, 10th and sixth in total scoring.

So here is my suggestion for 2015: Wait to fill all of your skill positions (presumably two RBs, three WRs and one TE) and maybe one or two backups at the RB/WR positions then go after your QB in rounds 7 through 10. And then take two of them, ideally one who is more of a pocket passer and one who is a running QB.

Running quarterbacks like Newton, Robert Griffin III (drafted QB10) and Colin Kaepernick (drafted QB14) didn't exactly pan out in 2014, but all three will likely be undervalued next year.

Zero RB? Let's try 1 RB

The Zero RB theory was a popular one this past year with the idea that drafting wide receivers early would give you less chance of a bust with your first few picks. That was true to a certain extent, if you drafted say, Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson and Antontio Brown in the first three rounds. If you instead drafted Calvin Johnson, AJ Green and Keenan Allen, you're probably cursing the Zero RB theory.


Any "theory" works if you draft it right, and any theory is awful if you don't draft it well. And no one would've begrudged starting your draft with Calvin, AJ and Keenan.

However, I still think the best way to draft is to try to diversify among the skill positions, but make sure to get at least one running back in the first three rounds, and ideally have two by the time you get to round five.

Generally speaking, first-round running backs panned out this year. Of the seven drafted in the first round, five -- Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy finished the season the top 10 in standard leagues, although McCoy was drafted No. 1 overall and finished 12th, so many might consider him a bust. Of the two that didn't, one was Adrian Peterson who was suspended most of the season (which you couldn't have predicted) and the other was Montee Ball, who was drafted highly simply because he was Peyton's RB, and I think the fantasy community was 50/50 on him having success.

Three more top five backs could be found in the second through third rounds in DeMarco Murray, Arian Foster and Le'Veon Bell. All figure to be first rounders this year.

This isn't to say the Zero RB theory is without merit. Among those second and third round backs were epic busts like Zac Stacy and Doug Martin. And you were able to mine some RB gems in guys like Lamar Miller, Joique Bell, Mark Ingram and Jeremy Hill in rounds 10-13. And really, isn't that what you should be trying to do in the latter rounds of your draft anyway, regardless of how you drafted at the top?

Really, the key was working the waiver wire at the RB position. Two of the top 15 players at the position -- Justin Forsett and CJ Anderson -- were undrafted. And because Anderson didn't start until the middle of the season, he was much better than the 15th player at his position for the amount of time he did play, often he was top 5 at the position.


The lesson for 2015? Draft at least one RB in the first three rounds (preferably one with a track record of at least moderate success over multiple years and not one based on potential), load up on late-round backups and work waviers whenever a back emerges as a possible starter.

Tight ends are a total crapshoot

Probably more so than any other position, the tight end was incredibly difficult to figure out in 2014. Inconsistency was the name of the game, unless your name was Rob Gronkowski, of course.

But even Gronk wasn't a sure thing coming into the season. Remember, he was coming off an injury in 2013 and has been injury prone at times during his career (and because of this, he could've been had in the fifth round!).

The second best tight end, Antonio Gates, was an even greater value. He was written off as old and slow last year, ready to be replaced by the younger Ladarius Green. The two Chargers tight ends actually ended up being drafted right around the same spot -- the 14th round -- and while Green was drafted in 95 percent of leagues, Gates was only drafted in about two-thirds.

Jimmy Graham meanwhile was considered a "safe" pick in the first round, a player who could give you an undisputed advantage at the position. And while he still finished third in total points in standard leagues, I think his owners would tell you that's more of an indictment of the rest of the players at the position than it is praise for Graham. To his credit, he suited up every week even though he missed portions of a few games with a shoulder injury and was actually held without a catch twice, including a week 13 match-up where he didn't get a target (on a day his quarterback threw for more than 400 yards and five touchdowns no less).


How about the curious cases of Julius Thomas or Vernon Davis? Davis, a proven commodity, opened the season with two touchdowns in Week 1, and proceded to finish the season with two touchdowns (along with just 21 more catches for less than 200 yards over the next 15 weeks). Thomas, meanwhile, is actually tied with Gronk and Gates for the lead at the position with 12 touchdowns, but just three of them have come since week 6, when he infamously proclaimed "It's too easy!" against the Jets. Not only that, since that time, Thomas had eight games of 3.3 fantasy points or less (including a few he missed when he was injured).

Sleepers like Travis Kelce emerged as a top 10 scorer at the position, but he had just two double-digit games and seven in which he scored less than 5 fantasy points.

Even streaming against the worst defenses like the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins didn't guarantee success.

What does it mean for 2015? I suspect Gronk and Graham will again be among the top picks at the position, although Gronk will probably cost a first-rounder (which I think is too much to pay) and Graham could slip into the third round this year, which could make him a value. Thomas' numbers keep him in the top 3, and hopefully consistency follows. Gates will be overdrafted and regress, Davis will be underdrafted and see a correction that puts him back in top 12 and will win a lot of people leagues next year.

Stream your defenses, or at least don't draft them early

Year over year success for any individual player in fantasy football is difficult to achieve, but no more so than team defenses, where multiple players and factors can contribute from one year to the next.


If you drafted the Seattle Seahawks, you got the 12th best defense in fantasy this year. And you paid quite the premium (a 7th round pick). If you drafted Carolina in the ninth round, you got the sixth worst defense. Yikes.

Meanwhile, if you waited until round 13, you've might've gotten the Philadelphia Eagles, or until round 15, you might've gotten the Buffalo Bills, the two best fantasy defenses in all the land.

In many cases, you could've skipped drafting a defense and just picked them up week to week, preferably against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If you picked up and played every defense that played the Jags, your "team defense" for the year would've scored 202 points. That's 33 more than the Eagles, the top scoring defense of the year.

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If there's ever been a case for streaming your defenses, that's it.

Remember, it's all about luck. And not Andrew.

At the end of the day, you can draft and manuever for a team of highly thought of name-brand players, unearth the best gems in the late rounds and waiver wires, study all the match-ups and still not win a championship.


Sometimes, guys are going to get hurt in the middle of a game and there is nothing you can do about it (see AJ Green on Monday Night Football in Week 16). Sometimes, teams are going to get shockingly blown out even when the match-up seems great and get pulled by their coach (see Andrew Luck last week vs. the Cowboys).

Do the research, but together the best team with the most logical lineups, follow your gut instincts from time to time, then hope for the best and a little bit of love from the Football Gods. It's all any of us can do.

Great season everyone, and good luck in 2015!

S. Wayne Carter is the Times' city editor. He writes a weekly fantasy football column for the Times. Reach him at 410-857-7879 or