Who was this season’s 2013 version of Knowshon Moreno and Nick Foles? This segment is reserved for the biggest fantasy football surprises of 2014. These players far outperformed their draft stock, or in many cases went undrafted or were nowhere on the fantasy radar to begin the season. Average draft position (ADP) numbers provided by FantasyPros.
Odell Beckham Jr. (ODB)
ODB had the best performance of any player in the 2014 fantasy football playoffs. Football fans best know him as the man behind the catch of the year and perhaps the best catch ever when he became superhuman against the Dallas Cowboys. He missed the first four weeks with a hamstring injury, but by Week 10 was the most productive fantasy wide receiver in the game. He went on a torrid nine game stretch that resulted in nine touchdowns and at least 90 yards receiving in each contest. He topped over 140 yards receiving in five of those games, totaled 12 receiving TDs for the season and averaged over 100 yards receiving per game. Surprise? No more, he will be among the top receivers off the draft board next season.
Remember Knowshon Moreno in a Broncos uniform last season? He made the most of short goal line runs in Peyton Manning’s offense and as a result was a common player found on championship teams. This season Anderson picked up the slack once Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman hit the skids with injuries. From Week 10 to the end of the season, Anderson was a double-digit point performer in leagues. He piled up 850 yards rushing to accompany 8 touchdowns on the year. He posted a couple weeks of 160+ yards and during playoff time he put up three TDs in Week 14. He was a nice surprise and could be a relatively high draft pick come the Fall.
Lamar Miller took a major step towards earning himself a large contract with his most consistent season as a pro. Totaling nearly 1,100 yards rushing and with eight touchdown runs, he led a Miami rushing attack that signed Knowshon Moreno in the offseason as competition. While only eclipsing the 100 yard mark twice in 17 weeks, he was a model of consistency and if anyone saw that one coming then they have some serious ninja skills. Tannehill’s progression at quarterback was a big part of that and that’s why he’ll be expected to have similar, if not better output next year with Tannehill under center.
Long-time journeyman Forsett was not even an after-thought for fantasy owners entering Week 1. That all changed drastically due to the unfortunate situation surrounding Ray Rice. The result, the Ravens became a running back by committee until Forsett ultimately won the job outright from Bernard Pierce and led all NFL running backs with a 5.1 yards per carry average in 2014. Forsett piled up five 100-yard games and led the team with 1,266 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Despite his small physical stature, he plays with a lot of heart and tremendous vision. From unknown to known, Forsett shocked everyone with his emergence from a 2nd/3rd stringer to an every down back.
The Pittsburgh Steelers loss was the Denver Broncos gain in 2014. With a potent offense and prolific passer leading the offense, Denver hoped Sanders would be Peyton Manning’s replacement for Eric Decker. Emmanuel improved upon Decker’s numbers and then some by surpassing over 100 catches for the season. His 1,404 yards of receiving and nine touchdowns were impressive and personal records. Stepping out of the shadow of Antonio Brown and pairing up with Demaryius Thomas elevated his game and made him one of the biggest surprises at the wide receiver position this season.
From the dog house at LSU to becoming the Bengals starting running back, he was initially a forgotten rookie from the 2014 draft. He did not stay forgotten long, as he piled up five 100-yard games to accompany over 1,100 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He had a steep hill to climb to get drafted with the off-the-field issues he brought with him. However, he found a home in many owner’s fantasy lineups in Week 9 with an injury to Giovani Bernard. Next year the price tag will be much higher and Hill will be no surprise moving forward.
He’s too old, that was the word on Antonio Gates entering his 12th season in the NFL. Last year he only posted four touchdowns, the fewest he has ever had since his rookie campaign. Chalk it up to slowing down right? Surprise! Gates found the proverbial fountain of youth and became the second highest scoring tight end in fantasy football this season, to the tune of 821 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. In fact, his 12 touchdowns led the NFL at that position, tying him with two of the highest drafted tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas. Not half bad for a tight end that saw his teammate and tight end, Ladarius Green, selected before him in some fantasy drafts. Surprise, Gates is now only one touchdown away from 100 for his career.
Rookie wide receivers are not supposed to lead their teams in receiving, but that’s exactly what Kelvin did in his first season with the Carolina Panthers. Actually, he tied teammate Greg Olsen, tight end, with 1,008 receiving yards,but he outscored him with nine touchdown receptions. Kelvin’s pedigree from Florida State as an NCAA champion was impressive, but he was nowhere near the top of any draft boards. In fact, the Carolina offense was a deterrent for many fantasy owners in drafting Benjamin since there was so much turnover in the receiving corps from 2013. Nonetheless, Kelvin surprised his critics and has tremendous upside moving forward into next season.
Another rookie receiver who made a big time impact in his first season, despite being on a two-win team, was Mike Evans. The former Texas A&M Aggie found ways to get open in an offense that was not much to speak of in general this year. While Tampa Bay earned the #1 pick in next season’s draft, Evans was one of the lone bright spots for the Buccaneers. His 1,051 yards of receiving and 12 touchdown grabs led the Bucs and he was tied for 4th in the NFL with those 12 TDs. Evans should be on everyone’s radar in the 2015 fantasy draft, especially if they can attract a more accurate quarterback via the draft…Mariota?
Hopkins found himself 30 spots behind teammate Andre Johnson in average draft position (ADP) entering Week 1. That was a bit of an oversight, as Hopkins led the Texans with over 1,200 yards receiving and six touchdowns. DeAndre totaled four 100+ receiving games, with a monstrous 238 yard, two touchdown performance in Week 13. Only J.J. Watt drew more attention from the Texans’ opposition on Sundays. He is no longer a surprise and should rocket up draft boards next season.
Steve Smith Sr.
Senior, as he likes to be called and long-term Carolina Panther turned in his baby blue for the purple and black of the Ravens. While many questioned what was left in his tank, he turned in 1,065 yards in receiving to go along with six touchdowns. In his 14th NFL season, Smith turned in an All-Pro caliber performance. Don’t be surprised if his fiery personality turns in another memorable campaign in 2015.
Tannehill was called out early in the 2014 season by Coach Philbin and it appeared his job might be on the line. The fire that was lit led to a 27 touchdown campaign with over 4,000 yards passing. If he can cut back his interceptions, those are All-Pro type of numbers. For a player taken #22 overall for that position, and targeted only in two quarterback leagues, he was a pleasant surprise.
No team circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills and nobody wanted to face the Buffalo Bills defense by the end of the NFL season. Could you say that before the season started? The Bills recorded a league-high 54 sacks and were second to the Seahawks in points allowed per game. Toss in four touchdowns between the Bills defense and special teams, to go along with 19 interceptions and they were the second highest scoring defense in fantasy football. Don’t look so shocked!
The Eagles are best known for their up-tempo Chip Kelly offense that moves faster than a defense can set itself. However, it was the Eagles’ defense that led the league in scoring defense. Thanks in large part to 11 touchdowns and 16 fumble recoveries, the Eagles were a high-flying defensive scoring machine in fantasy leagues. Not half bad for a defensive unit that went largely undrafted and team that is best known for their offense.