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NFL combine preview: Quarterbacks 02.21.15 at 9:12 am ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdrToday we look at the most important position — quarterbacks. The 2015 quarterback class is not a great one by any means, but there is some talent worth rostering, both in NFL terms and in fantasy football terms. As always, my rankings emphasize future fantasy value. Of course, there’€™s a strong correlation between success in fantasy and success on the field. Rarely do we see a great fantasy quarterback who is not helping his real life team.

Here’s the positions we’ve broken down over the past few days:

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

I’€™ve broken my top ten quarterbacks down into tiers as I did with the other skill positions. If you want to check those rankings out, you can access them via the links below. There is good game film on most of these players available at Draftbreakdown.com, so dig in.

Tier One

Who will go No. 1 overall, Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Who will go No. 1 overall, Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Jameis Winston, Florida State
Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Is it choose your weapon or pick your poison? There are widely varying opinions on these two quarterbacks and while I’€™d love to offer you some clarity, I’€™m still wresting with it myself. The thing about Winston is that he’€™s playing NFL football already when you watch his game tape. He makes tons of NFL throws, he’€™s got all the physical tools that you want your quarterback to have. All he needs to do is gain a measure of consistency and reduce the mistakes. If he works hard and stays on the good books, the improvements should come with experience and time. If that happens, he’€™ll pay off for the team that drafts him.

Mariota is a different player altogether. He’€™s got all the intangibles you could ask for and he’€™s going to test extremely well in Saturday’s drills. The questions with him are the kind you can’€™t answer without a crystal ball. He almost never plays from under center, so it’€™s hard to evaluate that aspect of his game. More importantly, he is not accustomed to making the number of reads a typical NFL quarterback makes on a typical play. Of course, there’€™s no strong evidence to indicate he can’€™t do this. It’€™s an incomplete grade. Teams will have to project what he would be in their system. Obviously this would not be the case for Chip Kelly, the granddaddy of the Oregon offense, should he decide to make a draft day move or should Mariota somehow fall into his lap. The Jets are another team that may see Mariota as being desirable as currently constructed. Chan Gailey, the team’€™s new offensive coordinator, likes to use a lot of spread formations. A team like the Jets may be in a better position to play Mariota right away compared to a team like the Titans, who project to run a more traditional offense.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota,
NFL combine preview: Tight ends 02.20.15 at 10:12 am ET
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On Wednesday and Thursday, we covered the wide receivers and running backs, respectively. In this post we’ll knock down the top 10 tight ends. I’ll be back with the quarterbacks Saturday morning. As always, I’ll be ranking these players with an eye toward future fantasy appeal, and this year’s tight end class is a bit more appealing that the 2013 group from that perspective.

As with the receivers and backs, I’ve broken the tight ends into tiers. As we move through the draft process, these rankings may move a bit, though I really doubt that anybody makes a move for the top spot. I’m that impressed with Maxx Williams. I’ll be posting full scouting reports on most of these tight ends in the coming weeks. Check weei.com later Friday, when Jim Hackett and I will be talking combine and looking ahead to 2015 fantasy drafts.

Tier 1

Maxx Williams, Minnesota

Yes, I am giving him his own tier. Williams is such a potent weapon as a receiver that I think he merits the distinction. The ex-Minnesota star is a mismatch nightmare, as I said the other day when I speculated about Williams as a potential Patriot. And, as much as I want to emphasize Williams’ receiving upside, it should be noted that he’s a solid blocker both in-line and out in space. He would fit right in on a team like the Patriots or the Eagles. If Chip Kelly fails to move up for Marcus Mariota, Williams would be a nice consolation prize.

Tier 2

Devin Funchess, Michigan
Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State
Clive Walford, Miami
Ben Koyack, Notre Dame

Funchess is working out as a receiver, and that most likely has something to do with his agent and the Jimmy Graham situation from last season. In my view, after breaking down his game film, Funchess is worth more as a joker tight end in the Aaron Hernandez mold than he is as a wide receiver. In the end, it may only be semantics. He’ll be a chess piece for some team, but he’s not game-ready. I expect a typical learning curve. Heuerman is an interesting player. He’s prototypically sized and I like his chances of early success because he’s been well-schooled by Urban Meyer. A good combine could raise his profile considerable. Walford is a traditional two-way tight end and he’s close to game-ready. His blocking chops should make him an every-down player eventually, and that lends itself to fantasy value. Koyack’s inclusion in Tier 2 may surprise some people, but I like his overall game. He’s a versatile receiver with good hands and he’s got plenty of potential as a blocker.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Ben Koyack, Clive Walford, Devin Funchess
What are NFL coaches saying at combine? 02.19.15 at 4:57 pm ET
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Vikings coach Mike Zimmer  (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said his team needs to get the ball to receiver Cordarelle Patterson. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Most of the NFL’€™s coaches have done their 15 minutes at the combine podium, and there have been some interesting quotes over the last two days. Yes Patriots fans, some head coaches actually say interesting things.

Here are a few quotes that are either interesting, informative or a little of both — and none of them come from Rex Ryan, which is a bit of a surprise.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on college vs. pro-style offense:

“€œSo many times, you’€™re evaluating a quarterback who has never called a play in the huddle, never used a snap count. They hold up a card on the sideline, he kicks his foot and throws the ball. That aint playing quarterback. There’€™s no leadership involved there. There might be leadership on the bench, but when you get them and they have to use verbiage and they have to spit the verbiage out and change the snap count, they are light years behind.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on Cordarrelle Patterson:

“€œWe have to do a better job of manufacturing touches for him. Cordarelle’€™s a very talented young man who’€™s been in a bunch of different systems. And, Cordarrelle is doing a good job so far this offseason. So there’€™s a lot of things we have to do a better job with him. And in saying that he has to do a better job himself. So it is a two-way street on this.’€™’€™

For the second year in a row, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley had good things to say about Denard Robinson:

He was a pleasant surprise for us after his first year. He came back stronger and bigger and really shocked us. He had a couple of 100 yard games in a row where he did some really nice things for us and it was unfortunate he had the injury at the end. We’€™re really pleased with his progress and we’€™re hopeful that he takes the next step. Where that takes him in the rotation, that’€™s yet to be seen. He’€™s doing a great job coming back from his (foot) injury. The future is bright for him.”

Bradley also had some eye-opening comments on WR Allen Robinson, as he heads into his second season:

“€œAllen Robinson is really a guy that jumped out at us early in the season. We felt like his maturity coming into it, his ability to pick things up, retain it and play at a high level ‘€“ he really jumped out early in the year.”

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on whether Dallas can “˜plug in” another running back to replace DeMarco Murray:

“I don’€™t like that expression, ‘€˜Plug another back in there.’€™ DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing by, I think, over 500 yards. His impact on our football team was significant, our ability to control the line of scrimmage, control the football, helped the other parts of our team out. He was a big part of all that. The value of being able to hand the ball to somebody 25 times a game, week in and week out, is significant.”

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Bruce Arians, Gus Bradley, Mike Zimmer
NFL combine preview: Running backs 02.19.15 at 10:32 am ET
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On Wednesday we took a pre-combine look at this year’s crop of receivers. Now we’ll tackle the running backs. I still have plenty of film to watch on this year’s class, and I suspect that I’ll be adjusting and tightening these rankings over the next two months as we move towards the draft. Still, I wanted to give a feel for the position before the backs workout.

One thing I want to make very clear, is this year’s running back class is outstanding. A player does not need to be ranked in the top two tiers to have starter potential at the next level. In fact, almost every back on this list has the ability to carry the ball in the NFL. This is obviously good news for a team like the Patriots, who can play hardball with a lot of their current runners, knowing full well that they can supplement their backfield and not even need a premium pick to do so. As a side note, it’s also worth remembering that the Patriots stole a quality prospect from the Panthers last season.

Check out my 2014 scouting report on Tyler Gaffney if you don’t know his story. He could be the next low profile Patriot skill player to make a splash in the league. I’ll be posting reports of all the backs listed below in the coming weeks. In addition to the scouting reports, Jim Hackett and I will be breaking down all the skill players on the Fantasy Football Podcast, sponsored by our friends at DraftKings.

Alright, let’s break down the backs. The top 20 players are grouped into four tiers. I’ve included film for most of the backs. Just click on their name to view.

Tier 1

Todd Gurley, Georgia

At the top we have Gurley all by himself just to underscore his upside as a potential franchise back. He’ll be a very limited participant this weekend, but his film tells the only story you need to know. Gurley is such a potential monster that I will refrain from any of the obvious Hans and Franz jokes out of respect. If not for his recent ACL injury, I’d bet money that he’d be a first-round draft pick. Maybe he’ll still sneak in there anyway, but the depth of the position, both in this draft and in the NFL, will work against him and all the other backs as well. This is the new reality in the NFL.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Duke Johnson, Melvin Gordon, Mike Davis
Could next great Patriots tight end be at NFL combine? 02.18.15 at 5:25 pm ET
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Could Minnesota’s Maxx Williams be the next great Patriots tight end?

He just might be if he makes it to the end of the first round in this year’s draft.

Williams is a special talent, and looking at Bill Belichick‘s history with tight ends, it’s hard to imagine him passing up a player who would create a mismatch no matter where he’s lined up. And, by our view, he’s ready to contribute right away and make Tom Brady‘s life a little easier. Expect him to post impressive numbers at the combine in his Friday workout.

Could tight end Maxx Williams be wearing a Patriots uniform next year? (Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

Could tight end Maxx Williams be wearing a Patriots uniform next year? (Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

Perhaps with certain teams adding a tight end when you already possess an all-time great at the position would be considered poor team-building. Not so for the Patriots under Belichick, who have shown the ability to use multiple tight ends in various ways. It’s seemingly their preferred base offense.

Looking at the Patriots, a player like Williams could help in two crucial ways. First, he’s a every-down player who can be used as such under their current offensive paradigm. Second, he gives them a player who can be dynamic and potentially dominant if forced to fill in for Rob Gronkowski. Williams can do some of the things that Aaron Hernandez used to do, but he can also do some heavy lifting as an in-line tight end if need be. Williams’ red zone ability is also outstanding. From this viewpoint, he’s the favorite tight end prospect in this year’s draft with many draft experts agreeing. For what it’s worth, he’d be above any tight end in last year’s draft as well.

Projected at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Williams is not as physically imposing as Gronkowski. Having said that, he is a similar receiver in many ways — overcoming some technique issues with freak athleticism and rare determination.

Here’s a look at Williams’ highlight reel. It’s an attention grabber.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Maxx Williams,
NFL combine preview: Receivers 02.18.15 at 1:31 pm ET
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As we head into the 2015 NFL combine, this year’s crop of draftable receiving talent is starting to take shape. In the wake of the 2014 class, just about any draft in league history looks disappointing, but football fans would be wise to get up to speed on this year’s group. Some of these players can make an impact right away, and there is plenty of depth, too. Will there be any Odell Beckhams? No. In fact, I don’t see any Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins either. That doesn’t mean this class lacks talent. Far from it. In fact, I like this class much better than the 2013 class.

I’ll break the top 20 prospects into four tiers to give you a general sense of value and where the drop-offs are. These ratings can and will change as we move through the draft process and watch more film … a lot more film.

Be sure to check out Rotobahn in the coming days and weeks as we roll out our long-form scouting reports and start to tackle the puzzle that is the 2015 fantasy draft board. This is going to be one of the most interesting drafting seasons ever. Has the era of the running back ended? If so, what defines where we are now? Be sure to tune in to the next fantasy football podcast, when Jim Hackett and I will dig into these topics and a whole lot more.

Click on the player’s name to watch a sample of his game film.

Amari Cooper (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alabama’s Amari Cooper is one of the top-rated receivers in the 2015 draft class. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Tier 1

Amari Cooper, Alabama
DeVante Parker, Louisville
Kevin White, West Virginia

Take your pick. These three players could go off the board based on scheme fit as much as anything else. They all are high-quality players who are NFL-ready. The general consensus seems to be that Cooper will be taken first, but White is an imposing physical receiver who some teams will covet, and Parker has a little bit of everything. For anybody who did film work on Teddy Bridgewater last season, Parker should be well-known. He was on the other side of most of Bridgewater’s big plays, and that’s no coincidence. Parker reminds me of Dallas’ Terrance Williams when he left Baylor, but with better hands and more developed routes. One thing all three of their top guys have in common is that their value is not all that dependent on the combine. Barring something really off-the-charts bad, the film and a clean bill of health is all these players need to sell themselves on draft day.

Tier 2

Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri (never played a down for Oklahoma)
Devin Smith, Ohio State
Sammie Coates, Auburn
Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Breshad Perriman, Central Florida
Philip Dorsett, Miami

This tier is a step down, but you still have mid- to late-first-round talent here. The difference is that some of these guys have discernible flaws, and a few are not game-ready like the Tier 1 options. Green-Beckham is a player who would possibly be off my board if I was an NFL GM. His off-field baggage is that significant. On the other hand, he has a skill set that is reminiscent of Calvin Johnson. Don’t get me wrong, DGB is not the freak that Megatron is, but his athleticism is rare for a man his size. Kevin Smith is a bit under the radar for a guy who was the lead receiver for a national championship team. Smith has an NFL skill set and he can take the top off of a defense. Coates is here for his upside. He may be the best deep threat in this year’s class, and we expect him to run very fast, but he lacks the polish of guys like Cooper and Parker. Jaelen Strong is a big name and he was a very solid college receiver who brings good hands and a big strong frame to the table. Getting consistent separation against man coverage will be the key to his success at the next level. Perriman is moving up boards, and, quite frankly, I’m not sure why it took so long. Anybody who watched Blake Bortles’ 2013 film had to notice this guy. My main concern with Perriman is his hands, and it’s a mild concern. He could end up being one of the better values if he makes it into the second round. Dorsett’s inclusion in this tier may surprise some, but at Rotobahn we love his speed and alpha attitude. The only concerns we have with Dorsett are his size and his potential lack of durability. The kid is an NFL talent. Just watch his film.

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Fantasy Football: Championship round daily leagues 01.16.15 at 10:30 am ET
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I hope some of you had success with last week’s DraftKings lineups. I know I did and I stuck pretty closely to last week’s recommendations. This week is an even tougher week for getting original lineups because the choices are so incredibly limited with only two games from which to choose talent.

As usual, I’ll do my best to explain my thought process as I construct my weekly lineup, and I’ll have a completed roster by the time we’re done. If you are looking for more information on players not listed in this space, head over to Rotobahn this afternoon. I’ll have my full lineup rankings posted by then.

QUARTERBACK

Last week, I was pretty clear about which quarterbacks I wanted you to play. As it turned out I was right, but I also was wrong. That’s because all of the quarterbacks stepped up and posted significant numbers. Even those who chose Peyton Manning had a chance if they played the other positions well enough.

This week is a little different. With the exception of Aaron Rodgers, I like all the options at quarterback, and even Rodgers has some merit — particularly if you want a contrarian move to differentiate your lineup a bit.

One thing that could end being a plus for Rodgers is the weather. While it’s potentially going to be wet in both Foxboro and in Seattle, it is not expected to be very cold, and that is a plus for a guy who is playing with a significant muscle pull in his calf. Rodgers may be able to get loose this week. We’ll see. Having said all that, my personal choice for quarterback is the same as last week: Tom Brady.

I’m going with Brady because I think he matches up well against the Colts, who don’t do the things that you need to do to knock Brady off of his game. I know people will be talking about the running game and how badly the Patriots have gashed the Colts in recent games. I am seeing things differently. The two reasons for this are as follows. Yes, the Patriots ran all over the Colts earlier this season, but they also demolished them from head to toe. I also think you need to consider that last year’s playoff game was a very different matchup. In 2014, the Patriots were a different offense. There was some concern about a shootout with the Colts. I don’t think those same concerns hold true with the 2014 Patriots — who probably would win a shootout with Indianapolis, and by a solid margin.

Chuck Pagano is a good coach, and I think the Colts will be ready for the ground game this week. At least they’ll be more ready than they were back in Week 11. I also think Belichick will be more aggressive with his passing game — because he can be, for two reasons. First, he has a defense than can make stops. Second, he has an offense with a healthy Rob Gronkowski. To me, for the Patriots to slow this game down is to play into Indianapolis’ hands. As the clearly better team, the Patriots should not be looking to shorten the game by simply possessing the ball.

For these reasons, I am liking Tom Brady at 8,500 units. Here are the four quarterbacks, just so you know the relative costs.

Tom Brady – 8,500
Andrew Luck – 8,200
Russell Wilson – 8,000
Aaron Rodgers – 7,800

As I said earlier, you can do well with any of these passers, but I’m going with Brady. My concern with Rodgers is the injury. My worry with Wilson, and it’s a minor one, also is Rodgers’ injury. If Seattle can knock out Rodgers, which is far more likely than normal, the game essentially will be over and Wilson could have a light day as a winner because they won’t have him running if the game is in the bag.

As for Luck, he’ll produce, but I worry about what New England can take away from him. I have a feeling that we may see more zone and combo coverage from the Patriots than folks anticipate — their primary goal being to take T.Y. Hilton off the board to some extent and to force Luck to beat them with his secondary weapons.

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