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QB Cam Newton
Though Cam Newton didn't fulfill the lofty expectations of many fantasy owners during 2013, he still finished as the sixth-best fantasy quarterback in the NFL due to his combination of passing (292/473 for 3,379 yards passing, 24 TDs and 13 interceptions thrown) and rushing (111/585/6) abilities. There was a drop-off in his frequency rushing the football, going from 126 and 127 rushes during his first two seasons to 111 last year, and also a drop in his average yards-per-carry (to 5.3 yards per rush), but he still remains one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL. Nobody complains about 5.3 yards per rush at this level, friends. Newton has finished as a top-five fantasy quarterback twice during his three-year career (in 2011 and 2012), with a sixth-place finish during 2013 as noted above.
The biggest concern for Newton entering 2013 is the same as ever - a dearth of quality wide receivers to throw the football at during regular season. Steve Smith, the anchor of this receiving corps for many years, is now a Raven after being released in the offseason, leaving a depth chart that lacks a headline playmaker. Ancients Jerricho Cotchery (he'll be 32 when regular season starts) and Jason Avant (31 years old as of April 20, 2014) are currently on top of the depth chart. Cotchery did grab 10 TDs for Pittsburgh last season (76 targets for 46/602/10) but he had a grand total of two receiving TDs during his prior two seasons with the Steelers. Avant managed around 50 receptions per season at his peak with his previous NFL team, the Eagles, from 2010-2012 - but he finished 2013 with 76 targets for 38/447/2 receiving, a 50% reception percentage. Tiquan Underwood, the current #3 wideout, hit his career high-water mark during 2012 while with Tampa Bay (14 games played yielding 55 targets for 28/425/2 receiving), managing 46 targtes for 24/440/0 over 12 games with Tampa last year. As you can see, the supporting cast at wide receiver doesn't bode well for a sudden spike in Newton's passing numbers during 2014. Newton does have a solid tight end in Greg Olsen (a career-high 111 targets for 73/816/6 receiving last year), and Ed Dickson (43 targets for 25/273/1 receiving last season) joined the Panthers from Baltimore to provide an experienced #2 tight end - perhaps they'll be able to do enough in two-tight-end personnel packages to partially offset the mediocre wide receiving corps.
Any excitement that fantasy owners feel about the Panther's wide receivers' stable is provided by their first draft pick, Kelvin Benjamin, selected at 1.28. There is a wide range of opinions about Benjamin's readiness to be a pro receiver - some feel his size and leaping abilities will make him a favorite target of Newton, while others fret about Benjamin's lack of polished route running and his tendency to drop catchable balls. We'll see what sort of chemistry Newton is able to create with Benjamin during the preseason.
QB Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin's 2013 season didn't go as planned, but that shouldn't deter fantasy owners from betting on him in 2014. Griffin rushed back from a torn ACL and was clearly never 100%, particularly when it came to trusting his legs. Mounting losses fostered tension with Coach Mike Shanahan, culminating in Griffin's benching and ultimately Shanahan's firing. Griffin gets a new lease on life with head coach Jay Gruden. Gruden managed to turn a middling talent like Andy Dalton into a 4,000-yard, 27-TD passer...imagine what he can do with Griffin. Combine that with the addition of DeSean Jackson and you've got every reason to think Griffin will bounce back into the top tier of fantasy QB1s.
QB Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick was the 49ers' second-round pick in 2011. He didn't play much as a rookie, but he filled in when Alex Smith was injured midway through the 2012 season, and he played himself into the permanent starting role. Over the past two seasons, Kaepernick has led the 49ers to two NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance. Kaepernick is an accurate passer with a good arm, but his fantasy production has been limited by the 49ers' run-heavy style of offense. Kaepernick himself is an excellent runner (941 rushing yards over the past two seasons), but he won't be a top-tier fantasy QB until the 49ers attempt closer to 500 passes (rather than the meager 417 they attempted last season). Expect him to be a worthwhile fantasy starter, but near the bottom of that range.
QB Tony Romo
While some may debate Tony Romo's place in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks, no one can question his value in fantasy circles. He's among the league leaders in career completion rate, yards per attempt, and TD%. The entirety of his supporting cast returns from a season when Romo threw 3,800 yard and 31 touchdowns in 15 games. New play-caller Scott Linehan is going to call a more aggressive attack and that means more passing attempts than last year's 535. Assuming his recovery from an offseason back procedure progresses well, Romo is among a handful of valuable fantasy QB1s that can be had for a fair price on draft day.
QB Jay Cutler
With another year of experience, the Chicago offense should take a step forward this year. The offensive line is the best it's been in a while and the rookie right side will begin their second season together. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the best one-two punch that Cutler has ever had and if he can stay healthy, Cutler should really thrive in a Marc Trestman offense. Look for him to finally silence the critics and return to prominence in both the NFL and fantasy circles.
David Dodds's projections
Chris Smith's projections
Bob Henry's projections
Jason Wood's projections
Maurile Tremblay's projections