2015 Fantasy Football: Five Rising Studs

Fantasy football certainly has more than its share of ups and downs during the course of a season. This year will surely be no different and the next six or seven weeks will help shape the opinions of fantasy football GMs everywhere. 

Last season produced its share of pleasant surprises (Matt Asiata, for example) as well as busts (Cordarrelle Patterson) - and that's just one team!

We all know the names of the "studs" year-in and year-out....names like Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson and Shady McCoy. There are a handful of the "bell-cow" runners but in today's pass-happy NFL, with defensive rules nearly allowing soccer players to be defensive backs since you can't use your hands to do much of anything, there are more pass-catchers that are being productive than ever before.

My purpose here isn't to try and "project" the top-five scorers or those that faceplant the worst, but more to compare what I think their production might be versus expectations and their projected draft positions. Here are my picks, in no particular order:

Top Five Surprise Fantasy Studs for 2015

Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

Third-year WRs are just the sort of players you look for when trying to figure out who is poised to make a leap for the coming year, and Justin Blackmon would be one of those guys - if he even sees the field. He has a TON of growing up to do and better get on with it or the NFL will forget about him. 

Allen Robinson, however, is a rising second-year pro - as well as most of the skill positions on that offense with the exception of rookie RB T.J. Yeldon from Alabama. I think his size gives him more of an edge than six-footer Marqise Lee, and the third second-year skill offender on the team is QB Blake Bortles. Bortles is far from the disaster that Blaine "Street Tragic" Gabbert was, but he still has miles to improve. I think he'll be the real deal in time, but will probably still have some growing pains. 

The team added talent on both sides of the ball, but Robinson came into the NFL his rookie season as one of the more polished products already, and I think he could really hit his stride a year earlier than most. He won't have humongous numbers, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him haul in 1,100 yards and 7 TDs. Not bad for a guy likely going fairly late in a draft. 

Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys

The 'Boys released another "Terence" (GOODBYE....newman) this off-season, but held on to this youngster for good reason. He's a true third-year pro and plays on a completely loaded offensive team. The Dallas Cowboys have an offensive line that really came into its own last season, then in a case of the rich getting richer, landed LSU rookie La'el Collins, the kid who was a first-round talent that went undrafted due to having to answer questions in a murder investigation in Louisiana. 

Regardless of the fact the thugs used to land in Oakland, then in Cincinnati for a while; this year, Dallas seems to have taken over that role. Off-field issues for others aside, Newman is literally going to be the last guy the defense is worried about. There's always Dez Bryant on the other side, who has more TDs than anyone else the past few years, as well as a strong running game by virtue of the "Wall of the Alamo" they have out there. Newman will likely see single-coverage all season, and probably from the second or third-best defensive back at that.

His numbers fell a bit last year from his rookie season, but that's probably as much a function of the new focus on the ground game as much as anything else. I'm thinking Dallas won't get the production from the position they had with DeMarco Murray last season and the running game won't be quite so dependable as last year's version. TE Jason Witten is still solid, but probably has had his best years, and while Newman's receptions and yardage dropped, his TDs went from 5 on 44 receptions to 8 on just 37 last season. I think Dallas takes to the air a bit more this year and Newman gets 900+ yards and might just break into the very low double-digits on the TDs if things go well for him. Those 8 TDs last season means he won't be a secret, so keep an eye on where he's going in online live "mock" fantasy drafts and if you want him, plan accordingly. His is a case where you might not actually plan on drafting him, as he's no secret as I said, but if he slides for whatever reason, I'd snatch him up.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

I know, I know...."Didn't you JUST SAY he was a flop?!?"

Yes, I did. However, that was last year. He's another rising third-year receiver that I think people got too high on too early - last season - and I was one of them. EVERYTHING has changed this year for Minnesota's offense. First and foremost, they've got All Day back. Secondly, Teddy Bridgewater showed promise as a rookie and at the very least, this year he should be much, much better than Christian Ponder ever dreamed of being. Last but not least, he has probably the fastest WR in the NFL on the other side named Mike Wallace...and no, I don't count little guys that never see the ball like Tavon Austin of the Rams. Wallace wasn't a fit in Miami so the Vikings grabbed him up. Patterson did lead the NFL in fantasy points the last month of his rookie season, so there's massive potential there too.

The one thing working against him is he'll be playing outside during home games in Minnesota this season as their new home is being completed, but that also means all the defenders will be too. Under today's passing rules heavily favoring receivers, icy surfaces can really favor athletic guys who can turn on the jets once they have the ball, and Patterson's also able to return punts and/or kickoffs. 

Since he was so disappointing last season, you should be able to pick him up later in the draft while getting a nice performance bump from him. Much like Dallas' Newman above, Cordarrelle will benefit from defensive attention focused elsewhere - mostly against Peterson, but they can't let Mike Wallace get over the top, either. It should leave a lot of open real estate for Patterson to roam. The biggest question is whether or not he really wants it.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee

With all the attention on the much-ballyhooed Jameis "Crabs" Winston, Mariota's selection second overall may have been one of the historically quiet second-fiddles in the NFL Draft. Yes, I'm certainly aware of the fact that he ran a very odd offense at Oregon and that such a transition is said to take a lot of time to digest, but more QBs than not recently have at least had decent rookie seasons, even if they didn't always carry over (ya hear me, "RGIII?"). 

Word is that what he has shown so far is through the roof, especially in one spot rookies typically have a lot of trouble with: accuracy.

We also know he can run, is very bright, and has all the intangibles people look for in a QB. He's pretty much everything that Winston isn't - he doesn't have the rocket arm, but doesn't throw the picks like Winston did (at least in college). Polar opposites off the field too since Mariota has impeccable character. That points to a hard-worker and a very coach-able youngster. Tennessee has a ways to go on both sides of the ball still, so Marcus could be chucking it a lot more often than the coaches would prefer...but it'll translate into fantasy production. 

I wouldn't draft him as my main starter, but then again nobody else is, either...at least, other than perhaps a crazed Titans fan. My bet is you can pick him up in the 10th-12 round in most leagues (he'll be thought of as a low-end QB2 fantasy-wise), so if you pick him then and miss, you're only missing a backup QB. The upside is he could have the fantasy upside of a middle of the pack QB1 when you think of the number of attempts he'll have and factor in his running ability too. He's a perfect candidate to consider as your FFL QB2 especially if your starting QB has one of the later bye weeks. By the second half of the season, I think he'll be putting up solid fantasy numbers and won't be an "obvious" soft spot if you have to start him for your bye-week starter. At best, he could get trade interest from That One Guy each year whose QB either gets injured or has a very down fantasy season (like Tom Brady's was last September - apparently before the whole deflated balls EYE-deer came along....or was it?) .

Lots of upside value here for a likely very late pick, so he's not going to burn you even if he flops. His upside is well worth looking at and his likely draft position makes him probably the biggest potential "bargain" of the group.

Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

Keenan is yet another rising third-year pro looking to really break out this year. If you'll recall, he was the kid from Cal who didn't have the blazing speed, but rather is a polished route-runner who has a knack for getting open.

He had just over 1,000 yards and 8 TDs as a rookie, then dropped off the radar a bit with 700+ yards and 4 TDs last year. However, with Antonio Gates beginning the season on a 4-game suspension, Allen is in a perfect spot to put up some good fantasy numbers and right from the start. Gates' absence means Chargers QB Phillip Rivers is going to need other options in the passing game. They also drafted Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon in the first round to replace Ryan Matthews, but I don't see them coming out as a run-heavy team. Not with Rivers as QB.

In the end, Keenan Allen has a chance to solidify his relationship with Rivers and so long as they can stay on the same page, it looks to me like all the ingredients are there for a resurgence from Allen for 2015. With Stevie Johnson on the field, defenses will have to respect his speed, and that should leave Allen some nice intermediate routes where he can catch the ball and run. Both Johnson and Allen are 6'2" so whether one's in the slot and the other's outside, they'll be able to take advantage of the best match-up on any given play...so long as their offensive line can buy Rivers the time he needs. That's probably the biggest wild card in Allen's ability to really break through to elite status this year. There are other weapons in place, but an early connection with Rivers should carry through the rest of the season.


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